During his successful mayoral campaign, Bill de Blasio often mentioned the need to have schools where students would have a safe and fair learning environment. This week’s announcement by Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina about school climate and discipline reforms is a major step in fulfilling that mission.
The specific plan to reduce unnecessary suspensions, increased oversight and accountability and training for school staff to avoid punitive measures will be welcomed by parents of African-Americans and special education students. According to several studies, these students are most vulnerable and likely to be the bulk of those suspended.
Farina, in her announcement, said this was a critical step forward. “Everyone knows that students learn best when they’re in a safe, supportive and engaging environment, and these reforms will make that atmosphere a reality for students across New York City,” she said. The new measures, she added, will protect students from bullying and other forms of violence while relieving them from the fear of suspension.
Fairness and safety continue to be at the top of the mayor’s agenda. “All our schools can and must be both,” he said. “That’s why we are investing in the training and best practices needed to ensure that when problems arise, we fix them first and foremost inside our schools. … These changes will help make campuses safer, treat students of every background with dignity and provide kids with the support they need to learn.”
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said the NYPD is “committed to the safety and educational opportunity of all young New Yorkers,” and the announced provisions and innovations “will bring us closer to that goal.”
These feelings were echoed by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who said that “taking a student out of the classroom should be the last option.”
At the core of the new reforms is an improved working relations between the NYPD and the Department of Education. The reforms include replacing summonses with warning cards for students charged with misconduct; not restraining students under 12 with metal handcuffs in schools unless no alternative exists; no handcuffing of students to other students or to fixed objects; and better utilization of verbal commands and minimal amount of physical control.
“It is my hope these reforms will go a long way in easing tensions with young adults,” said Gregory Floyd, president of Teamsters Local 237. “We are going to work closely with all stakeholders involved to reduce levels of violence in our schools.”
Overall, it will take approximately $5.4 million to effectively to complete these proposals. Sarah Scrogin, principal of the East Bronx Academy for the Future, is eager to begin working with the proposed School Leadership Team and school community “to implement these changes and to make use of the traditional resources provided by restorative and mental health programs to continue to improve my students’ lives.”