Students and Parents Speak Out at NYC DOE Hearing on Discipline Code; Demand an End to Suspensions for Minor Misbehavior and Call for Positive Alternatives

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 7, 2013
Contact: Shoshi Chowdhury, Dignity in Schools Campaign-NY, (347) 832-8391, shoshi@nesri.org

New York, NY – Yesterday over 100 members of the Dignity in Schools Campaign-New York (DSC-NY), a coalition of students, parents, teachers and education advocates, attended the Department of Education (DOE) public hearing on the Discipline Code to demand changes that would limit the use of suspensions and require that schools implement more effective alternatives, like peer mediation and restorative justice.

“There are still way too many suspensions and arrests. The numbers are more than twice as high since Bloomberg came into office. This past year, there were 69,643 suspensions and 882 arrests, 90% of which were black and Latino students, and many were just for minor reasons. This is not right. Being young, black and Latino automatically puts you in the school to prison pipeline,” said Benia Darius, a youth leader from Make the Road New York.

At a press conference on the steps of Tweed Courthouse before the hearing, students and parents were joined by Chair of the City Council Education Committee Robert Jackson to bring attention to the overuse of suspensions for minor misbehavior.

Jamail Branch, a youth leader at Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, spoke at the press conference and shared his suspension story. “One time I had to use the bathroom really bad and the teacher wouldn’t let me go so I walked out. The dean saw me and asked for my pass. I told him I didn’t have one and I was going to the bathroom. He told me to hurry up and go back to class. While I was walking back to class the same dean stopped me and told me to give him my ID. I told him that he just saw me, but he continued to write me up. He then told me to go with him to the office and that’s when they told me I was suspended for 3 days. Suspension didn’t really work because all it did was take me out of class for three days. There were alternative solutions instead of suspension. The Dean could have walked me to class or taken me to my counselor.”

Council Member Robert Jackson said, “As the Chair of the Education Committee, I join with you in speaking out in order to reduce and/or eliminate suspensions, especially for minor infractions. Hopefully with the hearing tonight, everyone will get an opportunity to be heard and the Department of Education will be able to move and reduce suspensions so young people can stay in school and get an education.”

Over 20 students, parents, educators, and advocates testified at the hearing noting that the new draft of the Discipline Code does not include a citywide mandate for schools to use positive alternatives to suspension and it 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 pushing or shoving. 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.

Amrit, a youth leader at Desis Rising Up and Moving, submitted testimony about his suspension story that was read aloud at the hearing. “I was suspended last year for opening an entrance door at the school I attended. I was never given the chance to explain or defend myself because the dean had the final say in everything. The suspension has really affected my studies, causing me to fall behind in my work, but that’s what a suspension does. It makes a person think they’re a failure. It makes you want to quit school. And suspensions don’t get to the root of the problem, which is why you need to make guidance interventions required in the discipline code. This will reduce suspensions, keep students in schools, and have a good learning environment.”

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.

Matthew Guldin, a member of Teachers Unite, asked “Why not require that each school commit to using a positive discipline program school-wide this September? There are many options out there: peer mediation, anti-bullying campaigns, conflict resolution programs, restorative circles and more. Having a school-wide positive discipline program in place would cut significantly the need for suspension in the first place, and a mandate to do this from the Office of Safety and Youth Development would make it clear to all schools that prevention and guidance are the necessary first choices that must be employed when responding to student misbehavior.”

Lynn Sanchez, a parent of two public school children in the Bronx, and a member of NSA-Parent Action Committee, said “It has been proven in other schools and other cities like Oakland that restorative justice approaches do in fact work. We need to make sure that the whole school community gets trained together so they’re all on the same page. That’s what makes programs actually work. Furthermore, we need an equal or greater number of social workers to School Safety Agents. Right now there are many more agents than social workers in our schools.”

Several students also talked about the harmful effects of over-policing in our schools and how School Safety Agents can actually create and escalate situations that lead to suspension.

Dana Gascot, a youth leader from Future of Tomorrow said “Every day when I walk inside my school, the school safety agents curse at me randomly. When the school safety agents (SSAs) curse at me, I feel like they are not taking our safety seriously. We aren’t being protected by the school staff when we go to them with a problem. They don’t do a good job solving the problem. That’s what makes us students want to try to take those matters into our own hands. I’ve seen many of my own friends react to what the SSAs do and say, and they would get suspended. This bothers me because suspending students is an option used very loosely. Suspensions are not solutions. Suspensions do not help students do better. Instead of having suspensions be an answer, we should have restorative alternatives to these situations which can actually benefit us rather than make us feel small and push us away.”

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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