Advocacy Group Feels DOE Can Do More To Prevent Suspensions In City Schools

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Craig D. Frazier, Amsterdam News, 2/15/2013

Controversy regarding the high number of children suspended in New York City schools continues. Since 2009, the Dignity in Schools Campaign-New York (DSC-NY), a coalition of educators, advocacy and parent groups, have led a campaign pushing for funding and implementation of positive, school-wide approaches to discipline that improves school climate, reduces conflict and increases learning in city schools. 

Recently, the Department of Education (DOE) released suspension data that reported 69,643 suspensions in the 2011-2012 school year.

"A safe environment is a top priority, and we have worked with schools to address incidents before they escalate. This has helped to reduce suspensions overall," said Chancellor Walcott.

For the year, more than 95 percent of suspensions were Black or Latino students; 74 percent were males, and 1 in 5 were of students between the ages of 11 and 14. "We also are looking into the disparities in the numbers among race and ethnicity," Walcott continued. "This is a national problem, and in our schools we have implemented a pilot as part of the Young Menís Initiative to reinforce positive behavior through coaching and problem-solving. We have more work to do, but we are headed in the right direction."

DOE is engaged in the Dignity Act, which went into effect on July 1. Its Respect for All program provides the opportunity for schools to highlight and build upon existing efforts and prevent bias-based harassment. The program trains teachers to ensure that schools comply with the regulations and work with the DOE Central staff on programs that embrace respect for diversity. 

This year's suspension numbers represent a 5.2 percent decrease from the 73,441 suspensions reported in 2010 to 2011. DSC-NY says DOE has taken steps in the right direction, but that more can be done.

They call for a 50-percent reduction in suspensions by September 2013 and for the DOE to end all suspensions for minor behavioral infractions, like defying authority, shoving or pushing, listed under Level 3 of the Code, and to end long-term suspensions of more than 10 days.

"We want to continue to unite the voices from different communities," said Shoshi Chowdhury, DSC-NY. "We want to put students and parents at the forefront and create an advocacy model that actually highlights the voices of the young people affected by this issue."

DSC-NY is also calling for requirements that schools use positive interventions before they can suspend a student, and for resources and training to support principals and teachers in implementing positive approaches to discipline, especially in those schools with high suspension rates.