On a crisp Friday evening in October, pedestrians enjoying a stroll along the Brooklyn Bridge heard the chanting of hundreds of youths in green shirts: “Solutions not suspensions!”
It was New York City students, marching against “pushouts” as part of a nationwide Dignity in Schools campaign.
Pushouts refer to students who are “pushed out” of school, due to repeated suspensions. Students and organizers say pushouts are occurring after students receive suspensions for what they believe are minor infractions, such as talking back to authorities or conflicts with classmates.
“You get suspended for insubordination, which is something pretty general,” said Maishah Salem, 16, a junior from Jamaica High School. “Insubordination gets you a one-day suspension.”
Salem says school safety officers treat those caught for truancy even more severely. “If your school is on the fourth floor, and you’re caught on the first floor, you are charged with truancy,” she said. “Once, I got sent to the truancy area [which in her case, is in the basement] and I saw officers emptying peoples’ bags for no reason.”
Along the bridge, students held candles and 260 life-size cut-outs of children, representing 260 “ghost children” — the number of students getting suspended daily in New York City schools.
These numbers add up. The 260 daily suspensions became 73,441 for the 2010-11 school year.
Suspensions are absences from school, which could hurt a student’s academic progress, said Ellis Preparatory High School student Estefan Peña. “I was suspended three times, losing 10 days of school,” Peña said. He also serves as a leader at Sistas and Brothas United (SBU). “What is sad is that I was behind in my schoolwork.”
In addition to academic deficiency, the suspensions could have much more severe consequences. “The suspensions lead to summonses, which result in a bad credit report or denied financial aid for college,” the Reverend Emma Jordan-Simpson of New York’s Children’s Defense Fund said. “We need to stop the cradle-to-prison pipeline.”
Protesters said they hope the Department of Education considers one alternative to the suspensions. “I hope schools use peer mediation instead of suspensions,” Peña said.
*Click here for a slideshow of photos from the event in addition to the article.