Last week, students, parents, educators and elected officials rallied at a press conference outside a Department of Education (DOE) hearing at Stuyvesant High School. Students with the Dignity in Schools Campaign-New York (DSC-NY) testified at the public hearing on the newly revised School Discipline Code and demanded positive alternatives to the high suspension rates in New York City schools.
The Discipline Code is reviewed every year and proposed changes are presented at a public hearing. The DOE is required under state law to review and revise the code annually where necessary.
“My brother got suspended because he got into a shouting match with somebody. After that, he continued to get suspended. Now my brother has dropped out of school, and he’s only 16,” said Aiesha Vegas, an 18-year-old student at Satellite Academy in the Bronx and a leader at Youth on the Move.
DSC-NY said that the newly revised Discipline Code takes some positive steps toward limiting the use of suspension but still lists 25 infractions for which middle and high school students can be suspended for an entire school year. There were more than 73,400 suspensions in the 2010-2011 school year alone.
DSC-NY called for a 50 percent reduction in suspensions by September 2013 and for the DOE to end all suspensions for minor, Level 1 behavior infractions, like shoving or pushing. They want to require schools to use positive interventions before they can suspend a student, including for behaviors, like fighting, listed in Levels 4 and 5 of the Discipline Code.
The DOE said they are reviewing many of the suggestions made at the hearing.
They propose to eliminate suspension as an option for Level 1 infractions, the least serious type of infraction, but are keeping it as an option for principals for infractions that are more serious. If a student commits a Level 4 infraction, he or she may face suspension. All Level 5 infractions (for fourth through 12th grade) require a superintendent’s suspension.
The DOE issued the following statement on the subject: “We want to be able to address improper behavior before it reaches a higher level, and to do that, we are focused on providing strong student support services coupled with parent involvement. For low-level infractions, we believe a more progressive discipline is warranted with strong counseling and youth development support.”
City Council Member Robert Jackson spoke at the rally and detailed some of the changes that he would like to see in the Discipline Code. Last week, Jackson and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn sent a letter to Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott recommending more positive disciplinary measures, such as guidance-based interventions and restorative justice techniques, that ensure that students develop the behaviors they need to achieve academic success.
Jackson said that suspensions affect Black and Latino students disproportionately. “Based on the statistics, 50 percent of students suspended are Black, even though they make up only 33 percent of the population,” he said. “The majority of students of color are already behind. When they get suspended, they fall further behind.”
The proposed changes can be found at schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/8B7833CE-ADB3-4623-9E45-06259679B831/0/DiscCodebooklet2012.pdf.