More than 100 members of the Dignity in Schools Campaign-New York (DSC-NY), a coalition of students, parents, teachers and education advocates, attended the Department of Education (DOE) public hearing on the Discipline Code on June 6. They demanded changes that would limit the use of suspensions and require that schools use more effective alternatives, such as peer mediation and restoration justice.
"There are still way too many suspensions and arrests," said Benia Darius, a youth leader from Make the Road New York. "The numbers are more than twice as high since [Mayor Michael] Bloomberg came into office. This past year, there were 69,643 suspensions and 882 arrests, 90 percent of which were Black and Latino students, and many were just for minor reasons. This is not right. Being young, Black and Latino automatically puts you in the school-to-prison pipeline."
According to a press release, more than 20 students, parents, educators and advocates testified at the hearing. They noted that the new draft of the Discipline Code does not include a citywide mandate for schools to use positive alternatives to suspension. They also added that it still allows suspensions of up to five days for minor level three offenses like "defying authority" and up to 10 days for pushing or shoving.
The code also list 29 infractions in lvels four and five for which students in grades six through 12 can be suspended for 30 to 90 days, and 27 of those infractions can lead to suspension for a full school year.
"I was suspended last year for opening an entrance door at the school I attended," said Amrit, a youth leader at Desis Rising Up and Moving, in submitted testimony that was read aloud at the hearing. "I was never given a chance to explain or defend myself because the dean had the final say in everything." DSC-NY is calling for an end to suspensions for all minor misbehavior in level three and is demanding that schools be required to use positive guidance interventions before suspensions.
"The suspension has really affected my studies, causing me to fall behind in my work, but that's what suspension does," added Amrit. "It makes a person think they're a failure. It makes you want to quit school. And suspensions don't get to the root of the problem, which is why you need to make guidance interventions required in the discipline code. This will reduce suspensions, keep students in schools and [create] a good learning environment."
A member of Teachers Unite, Matthew Guldin, asked, "Why not require that each school commit to using a positive discipline program school-wide this September?" He stated that there are many options out there such as peer mediation, anti-bullying campaigns, conflict resolution programs, restorative circles and more.
"Having a school-wide positive discipline program in place would significantly cut the need for suspension in the first place, and a mandate to do this from the Office of Safety and Youth Development would make it clear to all schools that prevention and guidance are the necessary first choices that must be employed when responding to student misbehavior," Guldin went on to say.
"One time, I had to use the bathroom really badly and the teacher wouldn't let me go so I walked out," said Jamail Branch, a youth leader at Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice at the Press Conference. "The dean saw me and asked for my pass. I told him I didn't have one and I was going to the bathroom. He told me to hurry up and go back to class. While I was walking back to class, the same dean stopped me and told me to give him my ID. I told him that he just saw me, but he continued to write me up. He then told me to go with him to the office, and that's when they told me I was suspended for three days."
Branch added that suspension didn't really work because all it did was take him out of class for three days. "There were alternative solutions instead of suspension. The dean could have walked me to class or taken me to my counselor."
Representatives from D.OE. were contacted for a statement, but by the time the AmNews went to press this week, no one was available for comment.
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