For school-reform advocates, however, the weak language of the proposal summary shared in the hearing was surprising, given that a full K-2 suspension ban already seemed to be a fairly modest step. The proposed reforms are part of a larger national debate over what should be done about school discipline, which reform advocates say is helping drive students into the criminal-justice system from very early ages.
Research in states across the country has shown that a student’s odds of dropping out of school jump significantly after just a single suspension; in turn, dropping out significantly increases a student’s chances of getting roped into the criminal-justice system. In New York City, as across the nation, students of color, especially black students, bear the brunt of controversial school-disciplinary practices. Black students are nearly four times more likely to be suspended than white students, according to a 2016 city report.
But de Blasio faces pressure from several interest groups, including the principals’ union, the teachers’ union, and charter-school advocates, who have, to varying degrees, opposed reforms to the district’s disciplinary code.
Prominent charter-school leaders, for example, have opposed discipline reform altogether, arguing that New York City schools are increasingly dangerous, and that the district’s minority children need a firm hand. Success Academy charter school CEO Eva Moskowitz, for example, published an Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal last year declaring that “minority students are … the most likely to suffer the adverse consequences of lax discipline.” Her charter-school chain has since been hit with several civil-rights lawsuits from parents of former students.
Asked why the the New York City DOE seemed to be backpedaling on reforms, Johanna Miller, the advocacy director for the New York Civil Liberties Union, said the agency could be being overly cautious to ensure compliance with state laws on school discipline. However, she remained hopeful the K-2 suspension loophole proposed on Monday would be closed.
“Substantially disruptive behavior when you are 7 years old is part of the educational process,” Miller said. She supports the suspension ban in favor of redress methods that show young children the consequences of their actions within the school community. “We shouldn’t miss the opportunity to hold the student accountable for the damage they did in the school environment,” she said.
Reform advocates also point out that other forms of permitted punitive action against students, such as in-school New York Police Department (NYPD) arrests and summonses, disrupt the health of school environments and drive students even more directly into the criminal-justice system.
In-school arrests and summonses have both dropped significantly under the de Blasio administration, but critics argue that police interventions in schools still target black students disproportionately. In the first quarter of 2016, for example, more than 58 percent of police interventions in schools—including arrests, summonses, and child crisis situations—involved black students, according to NYPD data. Over this same time period, more than 64 percent of students handcuffed in interactions with police were black—yet more than a third of these cases did not even result in arrest.