NEW YORK CITY — Comptroller John Liu compared the Department of Education's middle school suspension policy to the NYPD's controversial stop-and-frisk tactic, saying the strict crackdown unfairly criminalizes the city's students.
An average of 100 middle school students were suspended every day during the 2011-2012 school year, more than 18,000 in total, and about 90 percent of them were black or Hispanic, according to a new study on middle school suspensions released by Comptroller John C. Liu Tuesday.
“This report demonstrates the sad reality that the stop-and-frisk atmosphere, which presumes that men of color are guilty until proven innocent, begins as early as age 11,” Liu said. “The DOE’s policy of removing them from their classrooms for even small infractions teaches them nothing and may in fact worsen their conduct.”
The report also blasted the overall number of student arrests, arguing that the incorporation of NYPD school safety agents into public schools results in students being arrested for minor infractions like writing on a desk.
“This over-criminalization of school-based offenses risks putting students on the path to future incarceration,” the comptroller’s office said.
The report called for changes to the DOE’s current zero-tolerance behavior policy. They include hiring more middle school counselors and social workers, eliminating suspensions for minor infractions as well as suspensions that last more than 10 days, and giving school principals authority over school safety agents.
The total number of public school suspensions decreased by 23 percent last year, according to Margie Feinberg, a spokeswoman for the DOE. Feinberg added that the Department of Education recently introduced peer mediation and conflict resolution programs.
The comptroller's report said that although the overall number of suspensions is down, arrests for middle school students increased last year. It also found that middle school students received 68 percent more suspensions than high school students.
“To be sure, no one is suggesting that school safety be sacrificed or that students should not be held responsible for bad behavior,” the report said. “What is needed, however, is a more equitable balance between holding students accountable and providing the appropriate supports needed to do so.”