High Suspension Rates Will Continue Unless Bloomberg and Walcott Take Action to Implement Positive Alternatives
New York, NY – As students return to school this week, youth, parents, public school teachers and advocates with the Dignity in Schools Campaign-New York (DSC-NY) are challenging the latest version of the Discipline Code as being out of synch with the Mayor’s new initiative to make sure young men of color graduate in greater numbers. “The Discipline Code still overreacts to relatively minor alleged misbehavior, particularly when it comes to Black and Latino boys and students with disabilities,” said Akilah Irvin of Youth on the Move and DSC-NY.
Recently, Mayor Bloomberg announced his new Black and Latino Male Initiative, and Chancellor Walcott has stated that a priority is to ensure that Black and Latino young men are graduating college and career ready. “We hope both the Chancellor’s and the Mayor’s commitment to reduce the number of suspensions of Black and Latino students will translate into action,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU). More than 38,000 Black students are suspended every year, and the vast majority are male. A first step toward dismantling the school to prison pipeline, and producing high school graduates who are college and career ready, is to drastically reduce the number of suspensions by implementing positive alternatives.
While revisions to this year’s Code continue a positive trend from the past few years to give administrators additional discretion to impose less severe disciplinary responses, these changes will have little effect on the more than 70,000 suspensions issued each year. Like last year, the Code permits schools to use positive alternatives to suspensions if they choose, but creates no incentive or obligation for schools to use them.
Montania Chakladar, a student at Information Technology High School and youth leader of Desis Rising Up & Moving said, "As a student, I strongly believe that when the DOE doesn’t require positive interventions like conflict resolution and restorative practices before a student gets suspended it can really harm a student’s learning and pushes students out of school, since the real issues behind the suspension are left unresolved. Punishments like suspensions and expulsions only keep students away from learning and make them fall behind. By requiring schools to use restorative practices, students get an opportunity to learn and solve conflicts by communicating with peers and adults in school."
In the revised Discipline Code, schools are still given wide discretion to enact severe suspensions as they see fit for a wide range of often minor misbehavior, including up to 10-day suspensions for “being insubordinate” and up to 90 days for fighting that does not result in serious injury. A 2011 NYCLU report, which analyzed 10 years of school discipline data, found that students of color and students with disabilities are those most impacted by zero tolerance discipline. The report shows that students with disabilities are four times more likely to be suspended, and Black students, who represent 33% of the student population yet received 53% of suspensions, were more likely to be suspended for minor misbehavior.
During the New York City Department of Education’s Discipline Code Hearing on June 21, 2011 at Tweed, members of DSC-NY, a citywide coalition, advocated for revisions to the Code that would keep students in school and require positive alternatives to suspension.
“We were pleased to see that the Department of Education incorporated a number of changes based on our recommendations, including encouraging schools to use more positive interventions and revising the fighting infractions in the code to direct schools to use less severe responses for minor altercations,” said Jaime Koppel of Children’s Defense Fund–New York. “Yet the changes did not go far enough, and some revisions are steps in the wrong direction. For example, students can now be suspended or even expelled for simply ‘displaying or sharing’ materials that threaten injury or harm. A more appropriate response would help a student understand the potential harm such materials can cause.”
Ronnette Summers, a parent from P.S. 18 in the Bronx, also a member of NSA-Parent Action Committee and DSC-NY said, “We need to decriminalize our school system and develop a culture of mutual respect among the young people and adults in the school building. We need a system that is less punitive, and focused more on getting to the root of the issues, to avoid conflict in the future.”
Studies show that positive interventions like restorative practices not only result in fewer discipline incidents, but have also improved student attitudes, academic outcomes, and positive relationships between students and adults within the school community. In the long-run these alternatives are cost effective and our best mechanism for creating a positive school climate.
While the DOE has taken small steps in the right direction, the change is happening too slowly. The time is now. Today’s students can’t afford to wait.
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.