NYC Department of Education Fails to Reduce Suspensions or Address Racial Disparities

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

May 24, 2013
DIGNITY IN SCHOOLS CAMPAIGN NEW YORK

Contact: Shoshi Chowdhury, Dignity in Schools Campaign-NY, (347) 832-8391, shoshi@nesri.org

DOE Fails to Make Progress with New Draft Discipline Code; Students, Parents and Teachers See No Significant Changes to Reduce Suspensions or Address Racial Disparities

High suspension rates will continue unless Department of Education takes action to require positive alternatives in all schools

New York, NY - Students, parents, teachers and advocates with the Dignity in Schools Campaign-New York (DSC-NY) are challenging the latest draft of the 2013-2014 Discipline Code, which was released yesterday for public review. Members of the Campaign are concerned that the draft Code lacks significant changes that would address the disproportionate suspension of students of color and includes 27 behavior infractions for which a student can be suspended for a full year.

In New York City in the 2011-2012 school year, while Black students made up only 28% of the student population, they received 53% of suspensions. Even as overall suspension numbers have decreased somewhat (there was a 35% reported decrease during the period September-December 2012), the racial disparities remain.

The new draft of the Discipline Code does not include any citywide mandate for schools to use positive alternatives to suspension and still allows suspensions of up to 5 days for minor Level 3 offenses like the vaguely termed “defying authority” and up to 10 days for writing graffiti. The Code also lists 29 infractions in Levels 4 and 5 for which students in grades 6-12 can be suspended for 30 to 90 days, and 27 of those infractions can lead to suspension for a full school year. The new draft includes only small improvements, such as highlighting Functional Behavior Assessments and other positive interventions for students with disabilities and emphasizing that students cannot miss class time for in-school disciplinary options like detention.

The NYC Department of Education lags behind other districts like the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), which voted last week to ban suspensions for “willful defiance” in an effort to address racial disparities in school discipline. That vague and subjective behavior infraction mirrors “defying or disobeying authority” in the NYC Code. National research shows that these minor, subjective infractions generate disproportionate suspensions for Black and Latino youth. Since 2007, LAUSD has also mandated School-Wide Positive Behavior Supports in every school, and has now voted to implement Restorative Practices as well.

DSC-NY is calling for an end to suspensions for all minor misbehavior in Level 3 and is demanding that schools be required to use positive Guidance Interventions before suspension. DSC-NY is also calling for an end to long-term suspensions of more than 10 days, citing that too many students are still being excluded when positive alternatives to suspensions are being used with great success in other parts of the country.

“Why is it so hard to make Guidance Interventions a requirement in the Discipline Code?” asks Shikha Rawat, a 17-year-old youth leader with Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM) and DSC-NY. “All of our schools have requirements on everything else like attendance, classes, graduation rates, keeping a school open or closed. And our schools follow these requirements. So it’s hard to understand as students why we can't have a Discipline Code that requires guidance interventions before deciding on a suspension. That kind of requirement would improve school attendance and graduation rates and help with all the other things schools are required to do.”

Bonnie Massey, a school social worker in the Bronx, observes “Suspending a student does nothing to address the underlying issues that lead to minor misbehavior, nor does it provide the student an opportunity to learn new behavior or resolve the damage caused by his or her misbehavior. Restorative Practices hold students accountable for their actions and keep them in school where they belong. The DOE needs to require these kinds of alternatives before suspending a student and provide the needed training and resources for school staff to make it sustainable.”

The Dignity in Schools Campaign-New York is a coalition of students, parents, educators, civil rights, students’ rights and community organizations, including: Advocates for Children of New York, 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), YAYA Network, Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, Youth on the Move and Youth Represent.


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