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Suspension Crisis in NYC Schools

June 6, 2012
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High suspension rates will continue unless Bloomberg and Walcott require positive alternatives to suspension in all schools

Tafadar Sourov is a senior at Belmont Preparatory High School on the Roosevelt Campus in The Bronx and he writes:

My school administration loves enforcing zero tolerance policies, going after students for wearing hats and not wearing uniforms. They create an atmosphere that anticipates the criminality of the youth, while dehumanizing us and reducing us to invisible faces and unheard voices since there can be no justice for us in this system. They don’t stop there either, they go after teachers who they can’t subjugate, and have scared quite a few into resigning. I’ve been organizing in my school for the last year and a half, working with young people who were hurt by these policies, but never expected it to touch me this much.

One day, I met up with a visitor to my school to interview members of our student union.  The schools security let him in as I was in class. When our principal saw the visitor, he kicked him out of the building and suspended me for “bringing an unauthorized visitor to school without permission”, despite us having had visitors before without anyone getting in trouble before. Although I didn’t even escort the visitor in, I missed out on five days of instruction and had to work three times as hard to catch up when I got back, and was treated like a criminal by adults who I’ve known and gotten along with for many years. To this day I maintain that my suspension was political in nature, an attempt by the school to take out a union organizer. 

I think that this could have been handled differently. A simple conversation with me or a meeting with the guidance counselor would have been enough.  Instead, the school used a suspension that took me away from class time.  I thought the point of school was to keep students in class and educated.  Why is it then that the first response the administration used was a suspension?  Our education is not a game, suspending students has serious implications.  Us students of color are disproportionately feeling the burnt of the Department of Education’s harsh discipline practices.  This is not right!  My suspension is just one of the 74,000.  This crisis needs to end now!

Members of the Dignity in Schools Campaign-New York (DSC-NY), a coalition of students, parents, teachers and education advocates, held a rally and press conference, together with local lawmakers, at the Department of Education hearing at Stuyvesant High School to challenge the latest draft of the NYC Discipline Code. The DSC-NY says the new code does not go far enough to address the racial disparities in suspensions and is calling for systemic changes to significantly reduce the more than 73,400 suspensions issued last year, and to require the use of positive alternatives to suspension, like restorative approaches and positive behavior supports, proven to create positive school climates and improve educational outcomes.

“The suspension rate is too high! The point of school is to keep students in school and educated. Suspensions do the opposite, they push students out of school and we lose class time,” said JoMark Ramos, a 15 year old student at Morris Academy for Collaborative Studies and a leader with the Urban Youth Collaborative. “We need restorative approaches to discipline, like the ones in my school. Peer mediation, conflict resolution, learning circles, guidance interventions all work! We need them in all schools!”

The DSC-NY recognizes that the new revised code takes some positive steps to limit the use of suspension, but still lists 25 infractions for which middle and high school students can be suspended for an entire school year.

“I encourage the Department of Education to listen to what our communities are saying and that these changes take place, so that our children can receive a quality education in a safe and positive environment.  Guidance-based interventions foster positive behavior and encourage the developmental growth of our students.    No two people or schools are alike! By having different templates for support and a progressive disciplinary process, it may lead to effective behavioral improvements and a decrease in suspensions.  When students are suspended, they are more likely to drop out of school! In order to prevent this, we have to help them manage their behavioral issues in a productive way and supply them with the support they need,” says Council Member Robert Jackson, Chair of the Education Committee.

DSC-NY is calling for a 50% reduction in suspensions by September 2013 and for the DOE to:

1. End all suspensions for minor behavior infractions, like defying or disobeying authority, shoving or pushing, that are listed in Levels 1-3 of the Discipline Code.
2. Require that schools use positive interventions before they can suspend a student, including for behaviors like fighting listed in Levels 4-5 of the Discipline Code.
3. End long-term suspensions of more than 10 days.
4. Fund and implement positive school-wide approaches to discipline in 10 high need schools, and in each of those schools designate and train a Restorative Discipline Coordinator.

“While the new draft of the discipline code features new sections on progressive discipline and restorative approaches, the DOE does not mandate these practices, nor does it provide information about how schools can implement them,” said Sarah Arvey, a 7th grade teacher at a Queens public school and member of Teachers Unite. “If teachers can’t get training and support for this work, it will fall by the wayside, and students will continue to be suspended in record numbers.”

Visit http://stopstudentsuspensions.blogspot.com/ to read suspension stories posted by DSC-NY. Every day that we wait for the appropriate changes to the Discipline Code, 260 students are suspended.

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), Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, Youth on the Move, and Youth Represent
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