High Suspension Rates and Zero Tolerance in NYC Schools Propel Students, Parents and Teachers to Take Action



June 20, 2011

Contact: Roksana Mun, Desis Rising Up and Moving, 646-509-0922,

Maria Fernandez, Sistas and Brothas United, 646-623-9905,

Shoshi Chowdhury, Dignity in Schools Campaign-New York, 347-832-8391

High Suspension Rates and Zero Tolerance in NYC Schools will Propel Students, Parents and Teachers to Take Action

 Between 2001 and 2010, infractions in the Discipline Code increased 49%, contributing to hundreds of thousands of suspensions; Black students accounted for one-third of student population, but more than half of suspensions

 Coalition of Community and Advocacy Organizations Host Press Conference at School Discipline Code Hearing

New York, NY – Over 100 students, parents, educators, advocates and elected officials are speaking out against rising suspensions and demanding positive alternatives at a press conference and public hearing on proposed revisions to the NYC Department of Education’s Discipline Code. The press conference is scheduled for Tuesday, June 21 at 5:30pm on the steps of 52 Chambers Street in Manhattan, and the public hearing will begin at 6:00pm.

Suspensions in NYC have increased at an alarming rate. Between 2001 and 2010, the number of infractions in the Discipline Code increased by 49% and the number of zero tolerance infractions requiring a suspension increased by 200%. In 2008-2009, there were 73,000 suspensions in NYC public schools. These punitive policies target students of color at higher rates, contributing to the achievement gap and low graduation rates. Black students, who make up 33% of the population, received 53% of suspensions. Research by the American Psychological Association has shown that children who are suspended are more prone to fall behind in school, be held back, drop out and become incarcerated as adults.  

Nilesh Vishwasrao, a 17 year-old who was pushed out of Flushing High School in Queens after repeated suspensions, said, “I was targeted by the school administration and school safety for constantly being suspended. My own guidance counselor told me that I should drop out of school. I felt frustrated that after I was pushed out, all my work for the past four years was just thrown out. The solution is for the DOE to take responsibility for what’s happening in schools by having restorative justice, conflict resolution and more enthusiastic guidance counselors.” Nilesh is now organizing other youth, as a member of DRUM-Desis Rising Up and Moving and the Dignity in Schools Campaign-NY (DSC-NY), to change the policies and practices that denied him his right to education.

“In general the disciplinary codes of our schools in New York State should be revised,” said New York State Assemblyman Karim Camara. “Following the handcuffing of 7-year-old Joseph Anderson at P.S. 153 this past April, I drafted legislation calling for a moratorium on the practice of hand cuffing students until a coherent policy can be constructed. Unfortunately Anderson’s incident isn’t isolated, and no child should be subject to any such treatment. If one child isn’t safe, then essentially no child is. Institutions designed to protect and foster students’ best interest should enforce reasonable disciplinary measures in accordance with the student’s behavior and other factors, such as mental health or special needs.”

In the last two years, as a result of advocacy from members of DSC-NY, the Department of Education has made some positive changes to the Discipline Code. Last year, restorative justice approaches and Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) were added to the Code for the first time, and the automatic suspension for fighting was changed to give principals the option to use parent conferences instead. This year, the Level 4 fighting infraction has been revised to exclude minor altercations, directing schools to use less severe suspensions or alternatives identified under Level 3 of the Code.

However, schools are still given wide discretion to enact severe suspensions as they see fit for a wide range of often minor misbehavior, resulting in high suspension rates and detrimental outcomes for students.  For example, students can receive up to 10 day suspensions for “leaving class” or “being insubordinate” and up to 90 days for “sexually suggestive comments” or for fighting that does not result in serious injury.

“Too many schools are practicing zero tolerance, giving harsh suspensions that remove children from the classroom for misbehavior that could be addressed through positive and effective interventions,” said Avni Bhatia of Advocates for Children. “In order to keep kids in school and improve student behavior, a new, tiered system must be created mandating that more constructive approaches be used in cases where suspension is really not necessary for student safety.  Suspensions should be reserved only for the most serious infractions of the discipline code.”

 The DOE hearing happens once a year to get public input before the new Discipline Code is released in September.  DSC-NY is calling for the Office of School and Youth Development to hold monthly meetings with communities throughout the year to gather input and monitor implementation of the Code.

around the nation that have implemented positive alternatives to suspensions, like conflict resolution, restorative justice practices, and PBIS, have seen reductions of up to 50% in suspensions and violent incidents, and increases in teacher satisfaction and academic outcomes. Schools in New York City are also beginning to implement these positive approaches.  Speakers at the press conference will include Linda Morales a student at Belmont Prep High School who is a peer mediator on her campus, and Brady Smith a principal from Validus High School who is implementing restorative justice practices at his school.

 “Just as the DOE is working to reduce chronic absenteeism because they have acknowledged the negative impact of absences on student achievement, the DOE must also mandate and support the citywide use of positive approaches to discipline in order to create positive learning environments, reduce disruption in schools and support opportunities for success for all students,” said the Reverend Dr. Emma Jordan-Simpson, Executive Director of the Children’s Defense Fund New York. “Emphasizing the importance of reducing absenteeism while supporting and promoting policies that push students out of school – often for long periods of time – is a contradiction that the DOE must acknowledge and remedy.”

 The Dignity in Schools Campaign-New York (DSC-NY) is a citywide coalition of students, parents, advocates, educators and lawyers calling for positive, school-wide approaches to discipline that improve school climate, reduce conflict, and increase learning. We work to reduce suspensions and other harsh policies that violate students’ human rights to education and dignity. Members include: Advocates for Children, Children’s Defense Fund-NY, Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), Future of Tomorrow, Girls for Gender Equity, Make the Road New York, Mass Transit Street Theatre, National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (NESRI), New Settlement Apartments Parent Action Committee, New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), Sistas and Brothas United, Teachers Unite, Urban Youth Collaborative, Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, and Youth on the Move.