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NYC school disciplinary code reforms anticipated 

Dana Gethers | 6/5/2014, 4:21 p.m.
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Black and Latino students in the nation’s largest school district have been disproportionately penalized for failing to comply with school rules on or near school grounds, but New York City school officials are now attempting to change this with a long-awaited reform of citywide disciplinary codes. The codes are set to change soon as part of ongoing efforts to reform the current, somewhat controversial disciplinary measures. The new and improved codes will reportedly combat these race-based disparities in school suspensions and arrests.

The Department of Education (DOE) will reportedly hold the 2014 School Safety Hearings on Tuesday, June 10 at M.S. 131 on Hestor Street in Manhattan, where attendees will discuss the changes that need to be made and give testimony. 

The Council of State Governments is said to have compiled suggestions for how officials can apply changes to decrease these disparities, prioritize education and still maintain safe, manageable school environments. These suggestions were revealed in a phone conference held on June 2. Listeners included U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, U.S. Education Secretary Anne Duncan, Mayor Bill de Blasio, New York City City Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina and Police Commissioner William Bratton. 

These officials discussed how they will implement the much-needed reformative disciplinary tactics within the nation’s largest public school district, here in the city. 

The New York City School-Justice Partnership Task Force, which researches strategic practices that will allow for the safety of the school community as well as individual students, discovered that from July 2011 to June 2012, the NYPD reported 882 arrests made by school safety agents—more than half for misdemeanors. 

“Most school arrests were for minor, typical adolescent misbehavior that would not have resulted in arrest in a different school setting,” they concluded.

In addition to this, in 2012, more than 62.5 percent of students arrested were Black, and 32 percent were Hispanic. The most common charges were based on interactions between the students and agents or police officers when the students obstructed governmental administration and resisted arrest. 

The troubling revelation that discretion-based altercations are the most common causes for suspensions and arrests is precisely why many are anticipating reforms in New York City disciplinary codes. 

Mutale Nkonde, the campaign manager of #ChangetheCode and founder of Nkonde & Associates, expresses her objection to one third-level infraction, code B-21, which holds that “defying or disobeying the lawful authority or directive of school personnel or school safety agents in a way that substantially interferes with the tone and climate of the educational environment” could be punishable by a principal’s suspension for one to five school days. 

“The cause for suspensions using the B-21 clause are subjective, [allowing] teachers to suspend children for the defiance of authority,” said Nkonde. “Students [can somewhat easily] be suspended for nonviolent infractions using the B21 clause [if] the school staff can simply state that the student was defying authority.”

Advocates for reform like Nkonde want to hold the DOE to its claims to understand discipline as a “teachable moment.” The Citywide Standards of Intervention and Discipline Measures from 2012, located on the DOE’s website, say that a positive approach to discipline—progressive discipline—is essential to address and work toward changing inappropriate social behavior, emphasizing prevention and promoting the development of a positive school environment.

“When advocates joined the dots and looked at the racialized nature of school suspensions in New York City, we started asking the Department of Education to abandon clause B21 and replaced it with restorative practices [that] hold students accountable for actions and seek to eradicate the reasons for anti-social behavior,” said Nkonde. 

She suggests that New York City officials model their codes after those in other school districts, like Colorado, where instead of suspending students, they keep the students in school and more guidance counselors are employed to get to the root of their antisocial or potentially dangerous behaviors, especially if they’ve only committed a minor infraction.

*CORRECTION: The June 10th hearing at M.S 131 stated above is INCORRECT. The date for the 2014 School Safety Hearings has not yet been set.