In a letter addressed to New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew expressed concern on the topic of suspending students under the age of eight from school.

Mulgrew wrote that suspending kindergarteners and 1st and 2nd graders doesn’t help children who are dealing with genuine crises, but that banning suspensions outright doesn’t help the kids who would lose class instruction time because of the disruptions of their classmates.

“The Zero Tolerance policies of the previous administration clearly backfired—they never led to a nurturing school culture or even-handed discipline,” stated Mulgrew. “At the same time, we do not believe a 180-degree pivot banning suspensions makes sense unless schools have the necessary supports and interventions in place.”

The UFT leader wrote that he thought many schools were unable to comply with current regulations in place because the Department of Education didn’t provide the proper training and support.

“It is easy to ban suspensions. It is much harder to do the real work so suspensions are no longer necessary,” wrote Mulgrew.

“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 continued. “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.”

Mulgrew then went on to point out the existing policies that help to decrease suspensions of students under the age of eight: Pupil Personnel Teams that were created to address the needs of students with behavior or academic problems, the New York State Safe Schools Against Violence in Education legislation that requires schools to have a SAVE room, stationing a full-time person trained in crisis intervention in the classroom and training teachers and school staff how to de-escalate potential conflicts with students.

Mulgrew believes that many of these programs aren’t functioning in schools because schools are not following the requirements of legislation and not properly training their staff.

“We need to make sure the current discipline policies are working, and working properly,” Mulgrew stated. “Otherwise we risk a possible disruption to thousands of classrooms and to tens of thousands of students, while failing to provide the needed help to young students with behavior problems.”