Students, Parents and Teachers Say NYCDOE Should Have Mandated Positive Approaches To Discipline in New School Code

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August 15, 2013
Contact: Shoshi Chowdhury, Dignity in Schools Campaign-NY, (347) 832-8391,


Coalition Releases Case Study Today Showing How Four NYC School CampusesTransformed Their Climate for Learning With Positive Interventions

NEW YORK CITY -- Students, parents, teachers and advocates with the Dignity in Schools Campaign-New York (DSC-NY) fault the new Discipline Code just released by the Department of Education for its failure to mandate positive interventions like counseling, mediation and restorative approaches in schools across the city.

To demonstrate the positive impact of such interventions, DSC-NY released a case study today featuring the work of educators, students and parents at four public school campuses in New York City that are using restorative approaches, mediation and conflict resolution to transform their school climates, reduce disruption and improve learning.

Neissa, a student and peer mediator at the Morris Campus featured in the case study, explains: “At Morris we have youth who are trained to mediate conflict between students, which helps young people take responsibility for their actions. Staff are also trained to mediate conflict in the classroom and this helps reduce suspensions and keep students in school. The DOE’s goal needs to be supporting students emotionally so they deal with issues and can stay in school. I think it’s important that the Discipline Code requires guidance interventions before suspensions because sometimes students are dealing with problems outside of school and they are acting out because they need support, rather than a suspension, so that next time they don’t act out again.”

DSC-NY is calling for mandated use of positive Guidance Interventions before schools can suspend a student, except for the most serious behaviors. DSC-NY also is calling for an end to suspensions for behavior infraction B21 “defying authority” in the Discipline Code. National research shows that these minor, subjective infractions generate disproportionate suspensions for Black and Latino youth. The NYC DOE lags behind other districts in both failing to mandate Guidance Interventions and continuing to allow suspensions for defying authority. The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has mandated School-Wide Positive Behavior Supports in every school since 2007 and recently voted to implement Restorative Practices as well. LAUSD also voted this spring to ban suspensions for “willful defiance” in an effort to address racial disparities in school discipline. 

In 2011-2012, there were more than 69,000 suspensions in New York City public schools.  While overall suspension numbers have since decreased somewhat (there was a 35% reported decrease during the period September-December 2012), racial disparities remain. Black students make up only 28% of the student population, yet they received 53% of the suspensions. Too many students are still being suspended for minor misbehavior like “defying authority” that can be better handled by positive interventions such as those described in the case study. 

At the Lyons Community School in Brooklyn, for example, after implementing school-wide restorative approaches, Principal’s Suspensions of 1-5 days declined by 25%, and longer-term Superintendent’s Suspensions dropped 21%, compared to the 2008-2009 school year.

The new Discipline Code includes some small positive changes, stating that guidance interventions listed in the code like counseling, mediation and restorative approaches  “must be considered” when a student engages in misconduct. However, schools are not required to track or report their use of these interventions. The Code also highlights Functional Behavior Assessments and other positive interventions for students with disabilities and emphasizes that students cannot miss class time for in-school disciplinary options like detention. Yet, the glaring absence of a mandate that schools use positive Guidance Interventions before they resort to suspension for the majority of misbehavior is a missed opportunity for New York City schools and the students they serve.

Nicole Riley, a high school dean and member of Teachers Unite summarizes DSC-NY’s dissatisfaction with the minimal changes to this year’s code. She says “Think about the choices you made as a teenager. Defying authority is a very normal teenage behavior, but when it happens in zero tolerance schools that are heavily policed, students end up with long suspensions, hefty tickets and even criminal records. The DOE needs to change the Discipline Code to require, not just list, positive alternatives, and it needs to provide needed support and training for school staff like me who want to make a change.”

To download a copy of the case study, please visit:

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.