By Patrick Donachie
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced New York City public schools would no longer suspend students in kindergarten up to second grade, and touted several other initiatives that he said would promote school safety and end the practice of punitive school discipline policies that disparately burden children of color.
De Blasio, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton and Department of Education Chancellor Carmen Fariña lauded what they said was a continued decline in school suspensions and crime, but the initiatives drew a surprising rebuke from the United Federation of Teachers.
“Students feel safest when lines of responsibility and rules are crystal clear. Today’s reforms ensure that school environments are safe and structured,” de Blasio said. “The reforms also empower educators and families with more data and greater clarity on school safety policies.”
Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), the Education Committee chair, lauded the new regulations.
“A ban on K-2 suspensions is a giant step forward for our public schools,” Dromm said. “These recommendations rightly embrace a restorative justice approach to discipline and will vastly improve school learning environments across the city.”
The new approaches are based on recommendations from a task force established in 2015 to investigate issues of public school safety and disciplinary measures, and the reforms are scheduled to unfold during the coming year. In addition to the discontinuing of K-2 suspensions, the recommendations would minimize the carry-over of suspension between school years, allocate $15 million annually to fund mental health services at 50 schools during the next three years, work towards removing metal detectors and scanners in school and increase transparency of data.
“Phase two of the mayor’s plan will bring the implementation of a clear protocol in regards to school scanners that will help the NYPD and the DOE to better assess how and where this equipment can be used to further enhance school safety,” Bratton said. “It will also make public – for the first time – data on handcuffing, which will show that these restraining devices are largely used when arrests are made.”
UFT President Michael Mulgrew stressed that discontinuing suspensions could lead to unexpected consequences for teachers and students in a letter he posted on the UFT site after the announcement.
“The reality is that many schools are unable or unwilling to comply with current regulations because the Department of Education has failed to provide the needed training, support, funds and leadership,” he wrote. “It is easy to ban suspensions. It is much harder to do the real work so suspensions are no longer necessary.”
Mulgrew noted that DOE disciplinary policies currently in place were often not followed, including training teachers in de-escalation disciplinary situations. Mulgew also said tthe Safe Schools Against Violence in Education Act, which required schools to have a room and staff for crisis intervention, was not in place in many schools. Mulgrew contended the drop in suspensions may have stemmed from a concern on the part of school administrators that they would be reprimanded if their suspension rates remained level from years before.
Jermiah Ketteridge, the CEO of Families for Excellent Schools, decried the mayor’s assertions that crime had dropped in city schools.
“Chancellor Fariña and Commissioner Bratton may paint a rosy picture of decreased crime in schools, but the facts still remain — weapons recoveries are up 26 percent, violent incidents are up 23 percent and thousands of students lack relief from bullying, harassment and abuse,” he said in a statement.
Families for Excellent Schools advocates for charter schools and has been a frequent critic of the de Blasio administration’s education policies.
Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdona