Student Safety Act Data Reinforce the Need for Positive Alternatives to Suspensions

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New York, NY - Despite a decrease in major crime, suspensions in New York City public schools continue to increase and disproportionately target students of color and students with disabilities, according to alarming new data revealed through the Student Safety Act.

“This data proves what we all already knew: The Department of Education is pushing students of color out of the public school system,” said Ramale Galbrelth, 20, a senior at Bushwick Community High School and a member of Urban Youth Collaborative. “With 50% of students suspended being African American, while we are only 30% of the school population, they are setting us up for failure.”

Students, parents, educators and advocates of the Dignity in Schools Campaign-New York (DSC-NY) are calling on Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Walcott to reform the current punitive discipline policies in our public schools.

Co-Sponsor of the Student Safety Act, City Council Member Robert Jackson, said, “The Student Safety Act data is giving us more insight into suspensions and other actions by school principals and superintendents. 2,000 suspensions signed by one principal is totally unacceptable. I agree with Dignity in Schools Campaign-NY that we need positive alternatives to suspensions. The Education Committee of the City Council plans to hold a hearing this month on the data we received from the Dept of Education.”

“The data shines a light on the urgent need for the Department of Education to change its discipline policies to reduce suspensions and instead use positive interventions that create safe and supportive school climates,” said Liz Sullivan, Director of the Human Rights to Education Program for the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative. “Approaches like conflict resolution, mediation and restorative practices give students and educators the tools to deal with conflict in positive ways while building school community and supporting academic success.”

For the past year, DSC-NY members have met with senior administrators at Tweed and packed public forums, such as the annual hearing on revisions to the Discipline Code, to educate officials on proven positive alternatives to suspensions and metal detectors. On Tuesday, October 4th the DSC-NY brought together hundreds of community members at City Hall Park to demand that the Department of Education:
1.    Implement and fund positive interventions beginning in the highest need schools, including schools with high suspension rates;
2.    Reduce suspensions by 50% by September 2013 and eliminate suspensions of more than 10 days by requiring positive interventions before and instead of suspension; and
3.    Monitor the use of suspensions and other harsh disciplinary practices in schools.
 
The Department of Education, however, has continued to embrace “zero tolerance” discipline. While the Discipline Code lists counseling and conflict resolution as options schools should use, it also lists harsh disciplinary penalties. There is no formal requirement that principals and other school staff use alternative approaches before they use harsh disciplinary tactics. Nor are there adequate accountability and monitoring mechanisms to ensure that schools use them.  

The Student Safety Act that Mayor Bloomberg signed into law on January 6, 2011, requires the Department of Education and NYPD to report quarterly to the City Council on various measures of student safety. Even though the Department of Education issued its report on time, the data it provided raises serious questions about its compliance with the law.

“The DOE's overuse of redactions in its reports makes it impossible for advocates and the public to get a true picture of discipline in the majority of New York City’s schools. We have no idea about suspensions at many of the city’s schools since the DOE didn’t issue reports on schools where there were less than 10 suspensions. With the push toward smaller schools, that’s a significant number of suspensions the public knows nothing about,” said Johanna Miller, Assistant Advocacy Director of New York Civil Liberties Union. “We urge the Department of Education to abide by both the letter and spirit of the law and share with the public all of its suspension data so we can have a full understanding of what is happening with our students.”

While the Department of Education issued its report on time, the New York Police Department has now missed two reporting deadlines.

"It is really upsetting that the NYPD did not report its part of the data. Many of the students who are affected the most by suspensions and push out regularly face harassment from the NYPD in schools and on the streets. The lack of information reported from the Student Safety Act by the DOE and the NYPD only supports our need to put positive alternatives to harsh discipline in our schools," said Nazifa Mahbub, 18, a leader of Desis Rising Up and Moving.

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, Center for Community Alternatives, Children’s Defense Fund-NY, Coalition for Gender Equity in Schools, Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), Future of Tomorrow, Make the Road New York, Mass Transit Street Theatre, NESRI, New Settlement Apartments Parent Action Committee, NYCLU, Pumphouse Projects, Sistas and Brothas United, Teachers Unite, Urban Youth Collaborative, Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, Youth on the Move and Youth Represent.


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Visit http://www.dignityinschools.org/dsc-ny for more information.