Tag Archives: suspensions

Why Do We Suspend Students from School? Do Suspensions Result in Improved Outcomes? Are Restorative Justice Practices an Effective Alternative to Suspensions

A month after de Blasio’s election I went to a session at the transition tent, a community outreach, an actual tent, every day a series of “events,” panels of activists commenting/recommending policies for the new administration. The education panel I attended, a minister from a large church, the local NAACP leader, local electeds, community leader types, all railing against the school to prison pipeline. With all the possible education issues confronting the city the top issue for these Harlem activists was the “pipeline.”

Harlem activists are not alone, in fact the “pipeline” is widely accepted as a “truth:” from the ACLU to Tavis Smiley to media source after source.

“The ACLU is committed to challenging the ‘school-to-prison pipeline,’ a disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems“. (School to Prison Pipeline)

The school-to-prison pipeline: an epidemic that is plaguing schools across the nation. Far too often, students are suspended, expelled or even arrested for minor offenses that leave visits to the principal’s office a thing of the past.” (Tavis Smiley Reports)

“Policies and practices that favor incarcerations over education do us all a grave injustice.” (Tolerance.org)

The final draft of the New York State ESSA plan includes a section “discouraging” student suspensions,

“…additional measures of school quality and student success in the accountability and support system over time, beginning with the percentage of students who annually are subject to out-of-school suspensions.”

In New York State all students who are suspended must report to an educational facility. There are two categories of suspensions: in-school, in New York City from one to five days and in another facility if more than five days; either in a special alternative facility, outside the city usually in a BOCES facility.

Suspensions are governed by discipline codes, each school district must have a discipline code that is aligned with state education regulations as well as state and federal laws.

Read NYC Discipline Code (revised, April 2017), Grades K-5 http://schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/2942494E-7CD8-4CBD-86FC-E34A14FE1852/0/DisciplineCodeK5FINALforPostingaddtledits4517.pdf,

Read NYC Discipline Code (revised, April 2017) http://schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/92F313F8-C164-4B64-B236-BFF55A812254/0/DisciplineCode612FINALforposting5417.pdf

A lengthy essay in the New York Times reviews suspension policies in New York City and favors restorative justice practices as alternatives,

… in New York, where Rudolph W. Giuliani’s “broken windows” theory had taken hold, signaled to educators that crackdowns on unruliness of all kinds were in order. Between 1999 and 2009, the number of student suspensions in New York nearly doubled, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union, reaching about 450,000 suspensions over the course of the decade. In that era, infractions that once might have merited a call home, like shoving another student or cursing, were increasingly common grounds for suspension.

By 2015, in New York City, repeat low-level infractions — cursing, for example — no longer qualified for suspensions. In order to suspend a student for “defying or disobeying the lawful authority” of school staff, the kind of catchall violation that was disproportionately applied to students of color, a principal had to obtain approval from the Education Department. Between July 2015 and that December, the number of suspensions in New York dropped by 32 percent, compared with the same period a year earlier

The Department of Education urged principals to adopt restorative justice practices in lieu of suspensions.

Restorative justice is built on values like community, empathy and responsibility; in its specifics, it asks students and teachers to strengthen connections and heal rifts by sitting on chairs in circles and allowing each participant to speak about how a given incident affected him or her.

The central question: Do suspensions work”? Do restorative justices practices “work?”

By “work” I mean has the suspended student “learned a lesson,” Is future conduct better? Do the “suspendeds” learn self-control? Has the number of recidivist suspensions declined? Does the behavior and academic outcomes of students improve after return from suspension? If a student is suspended and removed from class does the class “benefit?” Does “learning” in the rest of the class improve?

An out-of-school- suspension is the result of a serious violation of the discipline code, for example, fighting, and, we have to be careful not to confuse the act that resulted in the suspension to the suspension itself. While the Giuliani and Bloomberg administrations encouraged a “broken windows” strategy, “stop and frisk” by the police and school suspensions, the current de Blasio administration has sharply reduced stop and frisk and suspensions.

Crime rates continue to decline across the city, we don’t know the impact of fewer suspensions?

Max Eden at the Manhattan Institute, in a review of teacher and students surveys claims discipline has eroded,

Advocates of discipline reform claim that a suspension may have negative effects on the student being disciplined. Critics are concerned that lax discipline may lead to more disruptive behavior, disrupting classrooms and harming students who want to learn.

While school climate is impossible to measure in most districts, it can be measured in New York City, America’s largest school district, thanks to surveys that question students and teachers about learning conditions in their school.

This report analyzes student and teacher surveys covering the five-year period of 2011–12 to 2015–16. The key findings: school climate remained relatively steady under Bloomberg’s discipline reform, but deteriorated rapidly under de Blasio’s. Specifically, teachers report less order and discipline, and students report less mutual respect among their peers, as well as more violence, drug and alcohol use, and gang activity. .

At  March 14th Manhattan Institute forum Lois Herrrra, Executive Director of the Department of Education Office of Safety and Youth Development challenged the findings of the Eden report.

The Department Online Occurrence Report System (OORS) requires detailed reporting of every incident in a school whether or not it results in a suspension. OORS is a rich trove of data, due to privacy concerns the Department limits access to the system – research designs must protect all privacy data. An artfully designed research project would be helpful in driving policy, unfortunately, I believe, the current beliefs that abhor suspensions might not support research with uncertain outcomes.

What has gone unexplored is what happens during a period of suspension. New York City maintains suspensions sites (“Alternative Learning Centers”) and, students receive small group instruction and intensive counseling at the sites. Yes, attendance is well below citywide attendance, for the students that regularly attend: are the outcomes better; do the suspension recidivist rate decrease, do student academic outcomes improve? An article in the New York Teacher describes the sites,

[The Department supports] five centers and 36 sites across the city where high school students are sent for instruction after they have committed an infraction that results in an out-of-school suspension.

These centers together form a carefully conceived safety net to ensure at-risk students get the support they need while not missing a day of instruction.

Mitchell Greggs, the assistant principal at Park Place Academy, a long-term suspension site, says the Department of Education’s alternate learning centers, with their small class sizes, specially trained staff and extra support, give students who have made a mistake at their home school the opportunity to change course.

“It’s the best-kept secret” of the school system, said Greggs. “I tell some students this might be the best worst mistake you ever made.”

… teachers hold daily advisory classes to work on community building, punctuality and attendance and how to handle stressful situations without resorting to fights.

In addition, there are restorative circles held weekly and as needed to talk about issues as they arise and what students will do differently when they return to their home schools.

The intimate school size and class sizes, which can range from one to 13 students, provide the opportunity for staff to get to know the students and address their unique needs.

“We work very individually with students,” said Park Place guidance counselor Camela Singh. “There’s a lot of one-on-one attention to help them plan their academic career behaviorally and make improvements when they go back to their regular school or graduate.

For younger students restorative justice practices as part of a curriculum appear to be an excellent idea, especially if integrated into a school curriculum. At the middle or high school level I favor student advisories, time each week for the teacher to engage in social, emotional learning activities, perhaps restorative justice activities, perhaps single sex “discussions” with same sex teachers; however, to virtually eliminate suspensions is a disservice. Students can learn life-saving, vital lessons during periods of suspension. Violent and dangerous acts have consequences, and a period of removal from a classroom and period of intensive counseling and intensive instruction can make an enormous difference in the life of a student.

We need research: which approaches are working, we should not allow preconceived, political agendas to drive policy

Advertisements

The Suspension Conundrum: Are Restorative Justice Practices Too Late? Can We Identify Students Prone to Committing Anti-Social Acts and Intervene Earlier?

From the presidential campaign to city politics, across the nation the “school to prison pipeline” is near the top of every educational agenda.

The Clinton Campaign Education Issues website,

… too many communities, student discipline is overly harsh—and these harsh measures disproportionately affect African American students and those with the greatest economic, social, and academic needs

There is no question that zero tolerance policies can be counterproductive; however, suspensions in New York City do not bar students from school. The Department has a detailed 35-page Discipline Code that clearly and explicitly explains each violation and the appropriate action. Principal suspensions, from one to five school days, results in a removal from the classroom and the placement in what is usually called a SAVE room in the building;  the student receives, in theory, academic services and counseling and the parent is required to attend a conference.  Serious breaches of the Discipline Code: weapons possession, fighting, etc., can result in a superintendent suspension, which is usually 30, 60 or 90 days and can be up to a year. A disciplinary hearing is required, the student can be represented by an advocate; the parent is entitled to all the documentation and a hearing officer makes a final determination. Students who receive superintendent suspensions attend alternative sites with low class size and counseling.

. Incarcerated youth, youth in drug treatment facilities, young people seeking high school equivalency diplomas, all are placed through Referral Centers located around the city into appropriate education settings

.Read the suspension procedures in full here.

As the school to pipeline trope has grown the Department has tightened the suspension faucet. The number of suspensions has dropped sharply. The Daily News reports,

The number of city school kids suspended and arrested continues to drop, according to data released Monday.

Suspensions dropped by 15.6%, from 44,626 in the 2014-2015 school year to 37,647 in the 2015-2016 school year, the city Education Department said.

The drop is due to several factors, including the expansion of “therapeutic crisis interventions,” as well as the addition of 250 guidance counselors over the last two years and 100 mental health consultants this year, DOE officials said.

The teacher union president, Michael Mulgrew and the Mike Petrilli, president of the Fordham Foundation,  a right of center think tank are on the same page, criticizing the tightening of the suspension faucet without extensive counseling interventions at schools.

The Department, and just about everyone else has jumped on the restorative justice band wagon as an alternative school-based intervention. Both The Atlantic and the New York Times  have lengthy articles praising, with reservations, restorative justice programs.

The restorative justice enthusiasm reflects a core issue – we intervene after the horses have left the barn. Much of system is based on identifying failing students or failing schools or failing school districts  and providing some sort of, for lack of a better term, a restorative practice:  We are teaching resuscitation techniques rather than identifying the non-swimmers and teaching them to swim.

Instead of harping on the pipeline let’s take a deeper dive: Can we identify the characteristics of students who were suspended? For example, Kim Nauer and her team at the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School identified 17 poverty risk load factors; some in school and others in the surrounding community. Can we construct a predictive metric? Will students with 6 or 8 or 10 of the risk load factors be more likely to be suspended? Which particular factor most closely correlates with suspensions?

Or, we can ask the kindergarten teacher.

My wife, a kindergarten teacher used to say: by November she could trace out the life path of students, a few she could alter, too many she couldn’t.  In my union rep days one of my favorite schools was the annex to PS 269. A pre-2 building, about ten classes on a grade, run by an AP and the teachers. The staff was both dedicated, really, really smart and feisty. One year they worked out a plan: the kindergarten teachers would select the 10 most difficult boys on the grade and assign them to the teacher who designed the plan. The other teachers agreed to accept one extra kid – the program didn’t cost additional dollars. At the end of the year the teacher, who has “the knack,” had turned most of the miscreants into upstanding citizens. Master teachers create miracles – the staff simply worked out a plan to address what they saw as an issue. No grants, no superintendents, no staff developers, just empowered teachers and a smart assistant principal who trusted his staff.

The Pre-K for All program in New York City is an opportunity to identify and intervene when the kid is four-years old; community schools may have the resources to address the out of school, the community deficits that impact the poverty risk load.

An intervention that begins after the student has committed the anti-social act, the act that may require a suspension, is too late.

Restorative practices should be part of elementary classrooms, many teachers guide students in creating school rules, student courts and tribunals can be useful, whatever is comfortable for the staff, and has some sort of evaluation tool attached.  Suspensions must always be an option; there are some actions that are so egregious that a punishment is required. Actions must have consequences. I have been in too many schools in which the line in the sand kept moving until anarchy was the norm.

A teacher told me a fascinating story: One kid was bullying another kid in a public space – the kid pushed and pushed; the second kid punched the bullier in the face, splitting his lip.

The kids met with the principal and the counselor, told the behavior was unacceptable, they would have to attend counseling sessions, participate in restorative circles. The mother of the puncher was called into school and told the behavior was unacceptable and she must work with her son – the behavior could have very serious consequences. The mother interjected, she said the counselor didn’t live in her neighborhood, in her project. “If you back down you’re a victim, you can’t allow yourself to be bullied.”  The counselor insisted, the parent responded, “Let’s change residences for a month, you move into my project, I‘ll move into your house, we’ll see if you feel the same way.”

Neighborhoods that surround schools have cultures and neighborhood cultures impact the lives of the community. Schools have to acknowledge the culture, and work within the mores that surround the school.

The teacher who related the story said she learned to talk with kids, informally, every day. She learned that to bring the kids into your world you have to enter their world.

Headlines about declining suspension rates are lipstick on the proverbial pig.

Are Suspensions a Pipeline to Prison or a Valid Response to Unacceptable Behavior? How Do Suspensions Impact the Behavior of the Other Students in the Class? Are Afro-American Parents Opposed to Suspensions?

Three years ago we were in the midst of a hotly contested mayoral election. Four high profile Democrats were battling for the democrat line on the November ballot. Bill Thompson, an Afro-American, had given Bloomberg a close run in 2009, the President of the City Counsel, Christine Quinn, the Comptroller, John Liu and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio were dashing from forum to forum. When the dust settled not only did de Blasio win he won 40% of the vote to avoid a runoff. A key was clearly his early and vigorous opposition to Bloomberg’s “Stop and Frisk” and the Dante TV commercial..

de Blasio received more Afro-American votes than Thompson, the only Afro-American in the race. Virtually every Afro-American male in the city, regardless of their income or residence has a story. A cop stopping them for no apparent reason, treating them as if they were a  criminal, a victim of “walking or driving while black.”

During his three years de Blasio fulfilled his campaign promises, he has been the progressive mayor, seemingly vying for the leadership of the left wing of the Democratic Party, and, watching polling numbers drop.

The NY Post and the Daily News have criticized him daily, the Wall Street Journal and the Manhattan Initiate also taking shots at the mayor and Governor Cuomo has made it clear, he, Cuomo, not de Blasio, is the leader of the Democratic Party in the state.

A year away from the next election and the vultures are circling, de Blasio seems wounded, and possible opponents are smelling the carcass.

At this point there is no “Stop and Frisk” issue, at least not until after the November presidential. A Hillary presidency would put a totally different spin – she could endorse de Blasio, or, send out an “I support Bill” message, or, remain aloof. Crime continues to fall to historic levels; the city is prosperous, what are the issues?

Lack of affordable housing, high taxes, homelessness, poverty, undocumented immigration, crowded subways: the list goes on and on; are any of these issues core election issues? Can they grab the electorate?

The Dante TV commercial and de Blasio’s early outspoken opposition to Stop and Frisk, in my view, catapulted him to victory in 2013.

Is there a core issue in 2017 that will create a path to victory?

First, who are the potential voters?  An NYU Wagner report in 2013 parsed likely voters. Older, better educated, higher incomes and union members are more likely to vote,

See a detailed analysis of likely voters by neighborhood before the 2013 mayoral election:

Prime voter lists and detailed voter information can be purchased – see what you can find out about likely voters: http://gograssroots.org/files/analyzevoters.pdf

Potential voters are extremely diverse, by ethnicity, by income, by age, by education, by race and by religion or lack thereof.

Getting back to issues: will suspensions be the stop and frisk issue of 2017?

Are schools (i. e., suspensions) the pipeline to prison tropes so deeply ingrained in minority and liberal voters that it will emerge as the core issue? See Atlantic articles here  and here; and, as the Department of Education, perhaps responding to harsh criticism from the teacher and principal unions, backs away, even ever so slightly the Atlantic and progressives shove back.

While the suspension/pipeline to prison issue resonates in progressive circles, both white and black, does it resonate among Afro-American parents?

A year or so ago I was at an education forum, during a break a teacher was engaging with an Afro-American charter school parent. The teacher was telling the parent, “Charters throw out the disruptive kids.” The parent answered, “That’s exactly why I send my child to a charter school.”

You cannot simply use the term, “Afro-American voters,” who do you mean?   Older black voters?  Millennial black voters? Caribbean voters? See fascinating breakdown of voting trends by neighborhood here.

Caribbean voters (Jamaica, Trinidad and Haiti) tend to be socially conservative, church-goers, union members, prefer kids to wear uniforms to school, and, I would argue far more likely to support strict discipline in schools. Highly educated black intellectuals firmly support the school to prison pipeline concept: David Kirkland director of  the Metro Center at NYU chairs the  Commission for Dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline.

 If we trace backwards: are kids who end up in criminal justice and/or fail to graduate high school more likely to have been suspended in school. Did the suspension(s) lead to poor academics and/or antisocial behavior? Could alternative disciplinary procedures such as restorative justice practices or Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports  (PBIS) avert the negative outcomes associated with suspensions?  Do suspensions so stigmatize the student that future negative behaviors are to be expected?  On the other hand, how do suspensions impact the other students in the classroom?  Does the removal of disruptive students improve educational outcomes for the remainder of the class?

Complex issues and issues that are firmly held.

Interested in becoming a campaign consultant?

Suspensions, the School to Prison Pipeline, de Blasio and the 2017 Mayoral Election: “All Politics is Local.”

A few weeks after de Blasio won the election in November, 2013 I wandered over to the transition tent on Canal Street; the de Blasio transition team was sponsoring a series of panels. Experts and the “community” was expressing opinions and asking for public input: infrastructure, policing, sanitation and education. The education panel was made up of a leader of the Harlem NAACP, pastors from a few churches and community activists. One of the speakers decried the large numbers of black children suspended in pre-kindergarten. I was sitting next to a high-ranking Department of Education official, I looked over at him, he shrugged and began tapping into his phone – he shook his head – the assertion was totally wrong; however, it didn’t matter.  The panelists “knew,” beyond a doubt, that school was the pipeline to prison and that there was a direct link between suspensions of Afro-American males, high school drop-outs, and prison,

Read an ACLU Report here.

Read Tavis Smiley article here.

As we inch toward the September, 2017 Democratic mayoral primary and the November general election the potential candidates are maneuvering, de Blasio’s approval ratings are in the tank and he is appealing to his base constituency, the Afro-American community.

The suspension rules are explicitly spelled in Department regulations.

New York City has a detailed discipline code; a code that was revised last year limited student behaviors that were subject to suspensions.

New York City School Discipline Code: http://schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/CD69C859-524C-43E1-AF25-C49543974BBF/0/DiscCodebookletApril2015FINAL.pdf

 As a result of the changes, and mostly because of pressures from the top, suspension rates have dropped sharply. The New York Daily News reports,

Starting in 2015, city Education Department officials made it more difficult for principals to suspend students as part of a larger effort to improve school climate.

As a result of the changes, city schools boss Carmen Fariña reported in March that suspensions fell 31.7 % from July to December 2015 compared to the same period in 2014.

The push came at least in part from de Blasio, who had criticized suspension policies as discriminatory toward black and Hispanic kids since his days as Public Advocate.

A few weeks ago the Department announced that suspensions in grades K – 2 would be bared completely.

Teacher union president Michael Mulgrew, in an op ed in the New York Daily News was critical,

In a perfect world, no child under the age of 8 would ever be suspended. Every student having a discipline crisis would have the proper interventions. Every classroom would be a positive learning environment.

Unfortunately, children in crisis who are disrupting classrooms are not going to be helped by the latest plan by the city’s Department of Education to ban suspensions outright in grades K-2, and neither will the thousands of other children who will lose instruction as a result of those disruptions.

Mulgrew was reflecting the views of his members as well as the principals across the system. I called a principal acquaintance,

“Yes, I plead guilty, I suspended kids in grades K – 2, and I doubt it resolved anything except it gave the teacher a respite from dealing with a few kids who are out of control. I wish I had a behavior specialist, a psychologist on staff, I don’t. A suspension gets the parent or the caregiver up to school and maybe we can work together and find some outside assistance for the kid. I suggested at a principal’s meeting that we chip in and hire an expert who we could share, my senior colleagues told me to back off, it was perceived by the superintendent as a criticism of her leadership.

Since the Great Recession of 2008 the numbers of psychologists, counselors, social workers and nurses in schools has been sharply curtailed. Yes, it is helpful to have reading and math specialists; specialists can only assist students who are ready to learn. How many of our students live in shelters, in foster care, have an incarcerated parent, a substance-abuse addicted parent or guardian, how many are food insecure, live in gang and crime infested neighborhoods?  The answer is simple: far too many. Principals and teachers must deal with the impact of the world outside of school in classrooms. Not an excuse, we take full responsibility for improving student outcomes; addressing the burdens placed on students and families by factors beyond the control of school must be the responsibility of our elected representatives.

A principal arranged for brand new winter jackets to be donated to all of his kids: attendance improved. Another held a barbeque once a month at the end of parent meetings, parents began coming to the meetings. Did the principal training program include teaching you how to check social media to see if there were any fights over the weekend that might spill over into your building?

Has anyone done a study of the impact of out of control kids on the rest of the class?

I asked an experienced principal if suspensions had a positive impact on the kid who was suspended.

There are some egregious acts, bringing a weapon to school, serious fights that must be dealt with sternly. Suspensions may impact the student who committed the act as well as the rest of the school. Restorative disciplinary practices are fine, principals and their staffs must have access to  a toolkit;  a wide range of approaches that fit the situation – removing a tool, suspensions simply makes the job harder and solutions more difficult.

I asked the same principal, a thoughtful guy, whether, in his view, suspension, was an essential part of the school to prison pipeline.

Don’t get me started, can I single out kids in early childhood grades that probably won’t graduate and will get in trouble with the law – sadly, yes. Try as we might, each year we lose a few more kids to the culture of the streets. The signs are clear: poor attendance, more fights, the wrong friends, we see it every year. We try to reel them back in, sometimes successful, too often not.

Believe it or not we are only thirteen months away from the Democratic mayoral primary. Shortly after the presidential election candidates will have to begin their campaigns: raising dollars and raising their profile. With low polling numbers will a Democrat decide that de Blasio is so damaged that he’s vulnerable?  Does Scott Stringer, the Comptroller, or Letitia James, the Public Advocate want to give up their positions to run for mayor, or, wait four years? How about Reuben Diaz, the Bronx Borough President? Or, maybe a Republican who can raise the mega-dollars – is there another Rudy Giuliani?  For twenty years the heavily Democratic city had Republican mayors. How about Eva Moskowitz?

In my mind there is no question that the UFT, the teacher union is firmly in the de Blasio camp.

Politico has doubts.

The political harmony between Mayor Bill de Blasio and United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew has faded in recent months, with Mulgrew issuing a series of denunciations of City Hall’s key education agenda items.

“We strongly believe that if the DOE properly managed existing programs, the number of suspensions for students under the age of eight would be greatly diminished,” Mulgrew wrote. “Better management would also result in more schools developing a positive culture of discipline and respect. Given the DOE’s poor track record in this area, we cannot support the plan at this time.”

To criticize actions of the Department of Education is not a “series of denunciations;” in mature labor-management relationships the parties can “agree to disagree.”  The actions of the chancellor in whittling away at the discipline code, in sharply reducing the number of suspensions,  we understand, is a political act; an appeal to a constituency that firmly believes that the act of suspension leads to dire consequences for Afro-American males.

All politics is local.

The union president is acting responsibly – he is representing his members, and, the parents of children across the city – you cannot simply bar suspensions without addressing the underlying issues – unacceptable behavior.  The Department cannot simply wave a magic wand and claim restorative justice practices are an alternative to suspension. Principals and teacher must have a wide range of tools to address unacceptable behavior, and to address the social and emotional deficits that result in these behaviors. Schools needs mental health professionals to work with children and their families as well as to work with school staffs and a wider range of alternative settings.

To call out the chancellor is not a sign of political dissatisfaction with the mayor; it is a union leader representing his members.

In the cauldron od politics someone is polling to see whether supporting suspensions will have a positive political impact.

A political axiom: win the election first, making a better world comes next.

Are Reducing Suspension Rates and Safe Schools Antithetical? Finding a Balance Between Safety, Respect and Trust in a Turbulent World

In the week after the mayoral election the incoming de Blasio administration set up a transition tent on Canal Street and posted the events of the day, panels and workshops on a wide range of topics. I showed up for the education panel – the NAACP, ACLU, a minister (now running for Congress) from a Harlem church and a few others discussing an assortment of school issues. The panelists were outraged by the number and severity of school suspensions.

The 32-page NYC School Discipline Code (revised 2013) has been scrutinized and revised every few years, the Code describes unacceptable conduct in detail and lists the levels of discipline. Unacceptable conduct begins with “uncooperative behavior” and moves up the ladder to “disorderly” to “disruptive” to “aggressive or injurious” to “seriously dangerous or violent.” The Code recommends “restorative approaches” with children and at each step there is an appeal avenue. Suspensions range from a few days in school to movement to an off-site suspension center and in rare cases to expulsion.

All “incidents” must be entered into the Online Reporting Student Suspension (ORSS) system with substantial backup information. The data is monitored by the superintendent as well as the borough safety team.

I spoke with an experienced department administrator:

1. The suspensions are actually shorter in duration; the time the student is out of the school prior to the hearing is counted as time served.
2. Arrests require an infraction – not the whim of a department employee.
3. Most suspensions take place because the parent doesn’t respond when called or show up for the hearing. Too often the parental response is “I have no control over my child” – the only option is a suspension.

In 2011 the NYC chapter of the ACLU issued a report sharply critical of suspension policies under the Bloomberg administration,

Interrupted: The Growing Use of Suspension in New York City Schools, a report by the New York Civil Liberties Union demonstrating a drastic spike in student suspensions under Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s watch. The report, based on an analysis of a decade of previously undisclosed suspension data, finds that New York City schools suspend nearly twice as many students as they did a decade ago and the lengths of suspensions are becoming longer — a trend that disproportionately affects black students and students with special needs.

The overuse of suspensions denies children their right to a public education. It’s pushing students from the classroom into the criminal justice system. A study of secondary school students, published in the Journal of School Psychology, showed that students who were suspended were 26 percent more likely to be involved with the legal system than their peers.

The ACLU and other civil rights organizations call suspension policies a “school to prison pipeline,”

The School to Prison Pipeline operates directly and indirectly. Schools directly send students into the pipeline through zero tolerance policies that involve the police in minor incidents and often lead to arrests, juvenile detention referrals, and even criminal charges and incarceration. Schools indirectly push students towards the criminal justice system by excluding them from school through suspension, expulsion, discouragement and high stakes testing requirements.

School discipline-suspension policies are high on the de Blasio-Farina agenda. Chancellor Farina, in her 100-Day speech referenced student suspensions,

A school culture in which students feel safe, valued, and respected is critical to our success. That includes rethinking how we respond to student misconduct. An over-reliance on suspension is not the answer. I have worked to change the tone towards our schools, and now I will try to improve the tone within them.

I believe that we need more supportive approaches to student discipline, and we’re developing them; for example, by helping schools embrace and deepen their work around social emotional learning, and building a positive school culture and climate. By embedding the social emotional competencies into the curriculum. And by engaging the whole community in solutions.

I have been inspired by the work of one particular network that is focusing on studying ways to “suspend suspensions,” and has brought some great minds to the table around this topic.

Schools are parts of communities and the pathologies of the communities impact the schools. When kids cross the threshold of the school building they do not leave their home and street experiences behind..

Carol Beck was the highly regarded principal of Thomas Jefferson High School in East New York, a school plagued by violence located in the police precinct with one of the highest homicide – hand gun violence rates in the city. When the board designated 21 schools for metal detectors for the 91-92 school year Principal Beck angrily and vehemently argued against the placement in her school – her kids were not criminals and should not be treated as criminals. The day of a visit to the school by the new Mayor, David Dinkins,

Two teen-agers were shot to death at point-blank range in the hallway of a Brooklyn high school yesterday morning, little more than an hour before Mayor David N. Dinkins was to visit the troubled school to tell students they had the power to break free of the world of violence and drugs.

“You have got to learn from this,” Mr. Dinkins, his voice tense, implored several hundred students who were packed into the two-tiered auditorium when he arrived to speak about 70 minutes after the 8:40 A.M. shooting. “You must learn from this. So please help me. Help your principal. Help yourselves.” The youths sat shaken, many holding their heads down in their hands.

The killings came just three months after another student was cut down by gunfire and a teacher critically wounded in the same East New York high school, a brick structure whose immaculate pink halls contrast with the near-desolate landscape of project housing and empty, litter-strewn lots

Since then, students have been screened with metal detectors about once a week in spot security checks intended to weed out the hidden knives and guns that the youths say they carry to protect themselves from street violence — and now violence in the school. Their grim neighborhood, which they described as a terrifying turf of night gun fire and drug deals, had the second-highest homicide rate in the city in 1990.

There were no metal detectors in use yesterday, despite the Mayor’s impending arrival. The detectors were to have been used Tuesday, the original date for the Mayor’s appearance. But the principal, Carol A. Burt-Beck, had asked that the security check be postponed because it would set the wrong mood, school officials said.

Standing up for her kids, not allowing metal detectors stigmatize her kids led to the death of three of her students.

Almost twenty-five years later in the same police precinct homicide – handgun violence rates lead the city.

Our first obligation is to keep kids safe and to create an environment that fosters learning, an environment that is frequently at variance with the environment in the streets surrounding the school.

I was meeting with a group of principals in a co-located building and the conversation turned to kids wandering the halls and fights. For a few of the principals the answer was to suspend more kids, I asked,

“Do you talk to the gang leaders?”

One of the principals, hostilely, “Why would I do that?”

I blurted, “Because they run the building.”

Gangs are a reality, when I hear a principal say s/he’s going to rid the building of gangs I figure they’ll be as successful as we were in ridding Afghanistan of the Taliban. Kids belong to gangs, their older siblings belong to gangs and their parents belonged to gangs.

A principal in school in the same neighborhood tells me, “I chat with my gang kids every day, glean the gossip, what’s going on, they tell me what happened outside of school and I know which kids to approach at the beginning of the day, and when to alert the precinct. My kids know there is no excuse for misbehaving in school and bad conduct has consequences.”

An arm over a kid’s shoulder, a stern look, a harsh reprimand, a phone call home, and, sometimes, a suspension, or, a call to the precinct, some principals have the skill to use the right intervention for each situation, and, others, don’t, and, may never have the skills.

As I entered a middle school the first thing I noticed was the number of kids wandering the halls, never a good sign. The principal, who had gone through a Restorative Justice training program, stopped two kids who were especially boisterous, engaged them in a lengthy conversation, she asked why they were in the halls, how they were feeling, suggested they speak with the counselor, and sent them on the way. I noticed a school aide standing in the hall. I asked her whether this the principal’s approach worked, she scoffed, “The kids eat her up alive.”

Grades on standardized tests determine student, teacher, principal and school success or failure. It was not surprising that the ATR pool was stuffed with over 200 guidance counselors; inexperienced principals used dollars for extended school days or Saturday tutoring programs ignoring the socio-emotional needs of kids. Schools are complex cultures, raging hormones in middle schools, proto-adults in high schools and elementary school kids often too hungry to do schoolwork or shuffled from house to house or simply plopped in front of a TV screen for hours every day or cared for by a sibling only a few years older.

Streets are dangerous places, the wrong comment, the wrong glance, the wrong “he said, she said,” can easily lead to retribution – your protection – your gang brothers and sisters.

It would be wonderful for a school to have psychologists, social workers, guidance counselors and nurses to work with kids and families, it would be wonderful to have principals who set and enforce rules across an entire school. Reducing suspensions is meaningless without other means of creating a culture of order and discipline. Kids are really, really smart, they have been manipulating the system for years: the cop, the social worker, the guidance counselor and the teacher. Some schools, some school leaders have the skills to change the game – to begin to turn kids’ lives around; unfortunately too few school leaders have the skills.

I worry that in the name of progress we will reduce suspensions, reduce the use of scanning and revisit the death of students at Thomas Jefferson.

The road to you know where is paved with good intentions.