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Read the press release here.

Kids Who Disobey Authority Still Face Suspension Under New Discipline Code

By Gwynne Hogan | February 16, 2015 10:45am
 Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced changes to the city's pre-K admissions, Feb. 5, 2015.
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced changes to the city's pre-K admissions, Feb. 5, 2015.
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DNAinfo/Amy Zimmer

NEW YORK CITY — The city will continue suspending students for "defying authority," despite calls from families and advocates to end the practice.

After months of pressure from parents, students and activists, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced long-anticipated reforms to the discipline code on Friday, including adding oversight of principals' decision to suspend students.

However, the new code did not eliminate the controversial "B21" infraction, which allows principals to suspend students for one to five days for “defying or disobeying the lawful authority or directive of school personnel or school safety agents." 

Advocates have long worried that the rule is too broad and said students were being suspended too often for breaking it.

Under Fariña’s reforms, principals will now have to get permission from the Department of Education's Office of Safety and Youth Development before suspending students under B21, a move that some advocates say does not go far enough in protecting kids from excessive punishment. 

“Suspending [students] for normal teenage behavior like defying authority is bad policy,” said Shoshi Chowdry from Dignity in Schools, an organization that has been pushing for school discipline reform in the city and across the country. “You don’t put restrictions on bad policy — you eliminate it.”

Data from the DOE show that defying authority was the most common grounds for suspension last school year. At least 8,878 students were suspended for a B21 infraction, accounting for about 17 percent of total suspensions.

Overall, suspensions in New York City's public schools have been on the decline, falling from more than 73,000 in 2010 to about 53,500 last school year, according to DOE data.

In another change to the code, suspensions for students between kindergarten and third grade will have to be reviewed by the DOE. Also, the NPYD will launch a pilot program in five Bronx schools, where police will give out warning cards for infractions before hitting students with summonses. 

“This is a critical step forward for our schools and our students,” Fariña said in a statement. “Everyone knows that students learn best when they’re in a safe, supportive, and engaging environment, and these reforms will make that atmosphere a reality for students across New York City."

National concern over school discipline has been mounting for years, in the wake of a growing body of research that showed suspensions disproportionately target children of color, that suspensions lead to higher dropout rates and that they may not actually be a very effective means of discipline students.

Even President Barack Obama came out against strict discipline policies that push kids out of classrooms last year.

Some parents and guardians who have dealt with the city's strict school discipline policies firsthand welcomed Fariña's reforms.

Ronnette Summers, 46, started advocating for school discipline change about eight years ago with the New Settlement Parent Action Committee in The Bronx, after her experiences with her 14-year-old nephew, for whom she is a legal guardian.

“[My nephew] was suspended so much that by the time he got to the fifth grade… he was reading on a pre-K level, because he had missed so much time [in the] classroom,” Summers said. 

Summers' nephew has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) to help with his behavioral issues and special needs. Students with IEPs are disproportionately suspended, compared to their peers, according to DOE data.

“For students like him, who have behavioral issues, schools [that] have an over-reliance on suspensions really [don’t] help what’s going on with these kids," Summers said.

Although Summers had hoped for bigger results, she was glad that change was happening at all. 

“[It’s] not perfect, it’s not exactly overturning [the B21 regulation]," she said, "but it’s a start in the right direction."

Read the proposed changes to the school discipline code online. The city will hold a hearing on the rules on March 2 at 6 p.m. at the High School of Fashion Industries, 225 W. 24th St.