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Daily News Op Ed Gets it Right

December 15, 2014

An op-ed article in today’s NY Daily News, typically the source of a lot of privatization blather, is on the money. Written by two “transfer school” staff members, Tyler Brewster and Kate Rubenstein, “School Suspensions Ruin Students’ Lives” describes the absurdity of suspending students for minor offenses and expecting improvements despite years of evidence that this punishment does NOT change behavior. Brewster and Rubenstein provide data supporting this assertion and note the disparate treatment of students who make up the pool of students suspended from school and analogizes it to the “stop and frisk” practice that de Blasio opposed when he was running for mayor: :

According to the Department of Education, there were 53,504 suspensions in New York City during the last school year. Black students make up about 26% of the student population, but were 53% of those suspensions. Students with special needs or disabilities make up 19% of our students but were 36% of the suspensions.

And guess what? The most common reason for suspensions in New York City was “Infraction B-21: Defying or disobeying the lawful authority or directive of school personnel.”

Translation, in many cases: Talking back to a teacher or principal.

What we have here is the stop-and-frisk of school discipline policies. It might have been conceived as a neutral policy, but that’s not the way it plays out in practice. While the Department of Education Discipline Code outlines a range of nine possible responses to a B-21 infraction, far too often the response is still a suspension.

Instead of reflexively suspending students Brewster and Rubenstein offer alternative ideas:

What’s the better approach? Restorative justice programs that challenge students to take responsibility and make amends for their behavior, creating a safer and more positive environment for everyone in the school building. We should also roll out conflict resolution, collaborative problem-solving, peer mediation and mentoring programs.

And… anticipating the pushback from taxpayers, they offer an idea of where the funding might be found:

We often are told we don’t have the resources, training or time to handle conflict and discipline in a constructive way.

And yet we do have about $200 million to place thousands of School Safety Officers in our schools. In fact, there are more School Safety Officers in New York City schools than guidance counselors.

SROs are part of the “good guys with guns” approach to school safety… a method of behavior control that is external and reinforces the notion that having armed policeman on every corner will ensure safety more so than implementing programs that prevent the kind of anti-social behavior that results in suspensions and violence in school. We’ve chose to spend on good guys with guns, surveillance cameras, internet filters, and metal detectors instead of investing in programs that will help us gain mutual understanding and appreciation for each other. What’s wrong with this picture… and what does it portend for future generations?

  1. Dan
    December 17, 2014 at 7:12 pm

    Could it be that students who are so poorly behaved that they talk back to principals, are already on the wrong path, and that the suspension has nothing at all to do with the eventual outcome?

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