New Data Show Decrease in NYC School Suspensions, But Next Mayor Still Has Work to Do

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Contact: Shoshi Chowdhury, Dignity in Schools Campaign-NY, 347-832-8391

New York, NY –New York City public schools posted a 23 percent decline in student suspensions during the last school year, but students of color and students with disabilities continue to be suspended at dramatically higher rates than white students, new data show.

According to the city’s Department of Education (DOE), there were 53,465 suspensions during the 2012-13 school year compared to 69,643 suspensions in 2011-12.

While the decrease shows progress, the number of suspensions still is too high and students of color are disproportionately suspended from school at the same rates as in the past. Black students make up 52.8 percent of suspensions, but only 27.2 percent of the student population.

“The numbers may be down, but too many practices are still the same. It’s still based on arresting and suspending students for things that can be solved if the DOE required and supported all kinds of guidance interventions in schools,” said Manny Yusuf, youth leader of Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM) and member of Dignity in Schools Campaign-New York. “So the same thing keeps happening every year, where students of color are the majority of suspensions and arrests and getting pushed into the school to prison pipeline.”

The rate at which students with disabilities are suspended actually increased slightly from the 2011-2012 school year.  In 2012-2013, students with disabilities received 34.1 percent of suspensions, but comprised only 12 percent of the population.

“While the overall numbers have gone down, the stubborn disproportionality for students with disabilities is especially troubling in light of the DOE’s ongoing systemic failure to provide students with disabilities the behavioral supports they need and are entitled to under federal law,” said Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York and a member of Dignity in Schools Campaign-New York.

Among the suspensions reported by type of infraction, the second most common behavior for which students were suspended was insubordination, now called “defying or disobeying authority” in the current code, which accounted for 29 percent of suspensions reported by infraction. (The DOE provides information by infraction type for less than half of the total suspensions due to redactions of data for schools with less than 10 suspensions in a given category.)

National research shows that suspensions for these minor, subjective behaviors, like “defiance,” generate disproportionate rates of exclusion for Black and Latino youth. The NYC DOE lags behind other districts in continuing to allow suspensions for defying authority.

“The decrease in suspensions is a step in the right direction for New York City schools, but the next Mayor has a lot more work to do,” said Liz Sullivan, Human Right to Education Program Director at the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative and member of Dignity in Schools Campaign New York.  “It’s time for New York City to catch up with school districts like Los Angeles which in May of this year banned suspensions for ‘willful defiance’ in response to calls from students and parents to address racial disparities in school discipline.  We need the DOE to require positive guidance interventions in all schools instead of relying on suspensions for minor misbehaviors.”

While the Discipline Code lists interventions like counseling, mediation and restorative practices as options schools may use, principals and other school staff are not required to use alternative approaches before resorting to suspensions and other harsh disciplinary tactics.The Los Angeles school district, for example, has mandated School-Wide Positive Behavior Supports in every school since 2007 and recently voted to implement Restorative Practices as well.

The Dignity in Schools Campaign-New York (DSC-NY), a citywide coalition of youth, parents, educators and advocates, is calling for the next Mayor to:

1.    Mandate Guidance Interventions, like counseling, mediation and restorative justice, before suspension (except for the most serious behaviors).

2.    Provide Trainings to All School Staff on the purpose and use of Guidance Interventions to prevent and reduce conflict and disruption.

3.    End Suspensions for “Defying or Disobeying Authority”, a minor misbehavior that is the second most common reason for suspensions.

Summary of New Data:

•    53,465 Total Suspensions in 2012-2013 school year, a 23% decrease from 69,643 in 2011-2012
•    11,581 Superintendent Suspensions (6 or more days) in 2012-2013, a 12.6% decrease from 13,258 in 2011-2012
•    Black students receive 52.8% of suspensions, but comprise only 27.2% of the student population
•    Students with disabilities receive 34.1% of suspensions, but comprise only 12% of the population
•    Of the 53,465 total Suspensions in 2012-2013 school year, 36,892 occurred in the second reporting period (January 2013 – June 2013), while just 17,573 occurred in the first reporting period (July 2012 – December 2012)

The data is released as a result of the Student Safety Act that Mayor Bloomberg signed into law on January 6, 2011. The Act requires the DOE and NYPD to report quarterly to the City Council on various measures of student safety. The new data was provided to the City Council, but it fails to provide a complete picture on the use of suspensions in city schools.

“We are concerned that these numbers may not present the full picture as there is a problem with under-reporting, especially of principal’s suspensions that range from one to five days,” added Sullivan. “In our experience, some administrators do not report all of these shorter suspensions. In addition, the DOE did not provide the total number of suspensions for schools where there were less than 10 suspensions. We urge the Department of Education to share this data with the public so we can have a full understanding of what is happening with our students.”

The DSC-NY coalition calls for citywide funding and implementation of positive, school-wide approaches to discipline that improve school climate, reduce conflict, and increase learning. Members include: Advocates for Children of New York, American Friends Service Committee- NY, Brooklyn Movement Center, Center for Community Alternatives, Children’s Defense Fund-New York, Coalition for Asian American Children and Families, Coalition for Gender Equity in Schools, Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), Future of Tomorrow, Make the Road New York, Mass Transit Street Theater, National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (NESRI), New Settlement Apartments Parent Action Committee, Pumphouse Projects, Sistas and Brothas United, Teachers Unite, The Sikh Coalition, Urban Youth Collaborative (UYC), Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, Youth on the Move, and Youth Represent.