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City Ends Suspension for K-2 Students and Issues Other Discipline Reforms

By Amy Zimmer | July 21, 2016 6:23pm
 A classroom at a New York City high school
A classroom at a New York City high school
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DNAinfo/Julie Shapiro

MANHATTAN —  Public schools will no longer be allowed to suspend students in kindergarten through second grade under proposed updates to the Department of Education's discipline code announced Thursday.

Suspensions would be replaced with more age-appropriate discipline, city officials said of the reforms, which comes with $15 million a year from the ThriveNYC initiative to provide at least 50 more schools with mental health services over the next three years.

The de Blasio administration also said it would set clear protocols for the removal or addition of scanners in schools while also making certain NYPD school-based data publicly available for the first time, like handcuffing incidents.

“Students feel safest when lines of responsibility and rules are crystal clear,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio in a statement. “The reforms also empower educators and families with more data and greater clarity on school safety policies.”

The proposed changes are based on the second round of recommendations made by the Mayor’s Leadership Team on School Climate and Discipline, which includes city leaders, educators and community stakeholders.

While the move to reduce suspensions for younger kids was heralded by advocates, who have long been calling for an end to overly punitive school discipline policies, many said it didn’t go far enough to address what happens in the later grades where there will still be significant racial disparities in students who are suspended, arrested, handcuffed and issued summonses.

Additionally, many advocates — as well as the principals’ and teachers' unions — asked whether the Department of Education will provide enough resources to schools to ensure the reforms will actually work.

The city said previous reforms are already yielding results: there’s been decline in school-based suspensions — suspensions dropped 32 percent in the first half of the 2015-16 school year compared to the year before —and the number of major crime in schools is down 35 percent over the last 5 years, city officials said.

But community organizers from the Urban Youth Collaborative noted that hundreds of students — who are disproportionately black and Latino —are still being arrested and receiving criminal summons — facing criminal consequences when there are alternatives that wouldn’t push a young person into the criminal justice system.

For instance, of the 673 students who were handcuffed, the group said, more than one-third were never arrested or charged with any crime, and 14 percent of summons were for nonviolent disorderly conduct incidents.

“We need to divest in police funding and invest in supporting programs like restorative justice, extracurriculars and clubs,” said Christine Rodriguez, a youth leader with the Urban Youth Collaborative, who noted that the city spends $300 million a year related to policing students. “Feeling criminalized and unwelcome is a way too familiar feeling for too many black and brown youth from low-income communities. There must be a shift in priorities and budgets are a reflection of priorities.”

Kesi Foster, the group’s coordinator, commended the Leadership Team for its “comprehensive effort” to address the city’s “school-to-prison” pipeline, but said its vision would only work if the proper supports are there.

“[The team] has produced recommendations and programs that if fully adopted, supported, and effectively implemented will have a positive impact on improving school climate for all students,” he said.

But many fear the proposals won't come with the proper supports and training.

The Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, which represents the city’s principals, said the resources should be in place before the changes to the code are made.

“Under these reforms, principals would be stripped of disciplinary tools before measures, like restorative justice training, and necessary personnel, i.e., counselors and psychiatrists, are in place to offer chronically misbehaving students the services they need to modify their behavior,” the union’s statement said.

“Each requires additional training and personnel, both impediments in the massive and often cash-strapped New York City Department of Education,” the statement continued, adding that “hamstringing a school administrator’s ability to take appropriate action against students who violate a school’s Disciplinary Code ultimately harms the offending student, the student body and the institution.”