Even though the use of school suspensions in New York City public schools has declined, the disparity in their use with disabled students has not.
2015-16 Student Safety Act data shows that while students with disabilities comprise 18.7% of NYC’s public school population, they were disproportionately punished with 38.6% of suspensions, slightly up from 38.2% the previous year.
According to the New York Civil Liberties Union’s factsheet, “The School to Prison Pipeline,” a child who is suspended from school is much more likely to “fall behind in school, be retained a grade, drop out of high school, commit a crime, and become incarcerated as an adult.” NYCLU adds that “[t]he best demographic indicators of children who will be suspended are not the type or severity of the crime, but the color of their skin, their special education status, the school they go to, and whether they have been suspended before.”
Police in schools are also arresting and handcuffing kids in situations unrelated to the commission of a crime—25% of these interventions are the result of a student in emotional distress. The DOE’s draft plans contain no guidance or rules for how police officers interact with children in schools.
In both its mission statement accompanying the proposed discipline plan for K-5 and in its proposed discipline plans for 6-12, the DOE says it aims to “reduce the use of suspensions as a disciplinary tool and will eliminate the use of summonses and arrests for minor school misbehavior while continuing to advance school safety.”
While hailing some of the reforms as steps in the right direction, many advocates are not convinced that the changes go far enough. As reported in Chalkbeat, while the DOE initially promised to eliminate suspensions for K-2 students last July, their written proposal stops short of that, allowing the district to suspend some of its youngest students in situations in which “a student repeatedly displays behavior that is violent or could cause serious harm, or a student violates the Gun-Free Schools Act.” The city’s public schools suspended 801 children in K-2 last year, according to School Safety Act data.
The Urban Youth Collaborative have also criticized the plan for not doing more to address disparities in discipline for students of color and students with disabilities, telling Chalkbeat, “The incremental change is important, but it’s been incremental change for a decade.” They point out that an offense like “insubordination,” for which suspension would still be an allowable punishment under the proposed plan, is highly subjective and susceptible to biased enforcement.
Parents who are interested in sharing their thoughts on school discipline policy with the New York City Department of Education have until January 30th to email their comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. A public hearing on the draft revisions will be held on Wednesday, January 25th from 6-8pm at MS 131, 100 Hester Street in Manhattan in the school’s auditorium.
All documents related to these proposals can be found on the DOE’s Discipline Code page of its website.