Students speak out against suspensions

Students with the Dignity in Schools Campaign-New York (DSC-NY) testified at a public hearing on the newly revised School Discipline Code before the NYC Department of Education at Stuyvesant High School on June 5.

Before the hearing more than 150 students, parents, educators and elected officials rallied at a press conference demanding positive alternatives to high suspension rates in New York City schools.

“My brother got suspended because he got into a shouting match with somebody, and then after that he continued to get suspended, and now my brother dropped out of school, and he’s only 16,” said Aiesha Vegas, an 18-year-old student at Satellite Academy in the Bronx and a leader at Youth on the Move.

“When kids are getting suspended and they come back to school and they’re behind, they feel more discouraged, and that’s why they end up cutting school, which leads to them getting arrested, and which leads to them not graduating,” she added.

The newly revised Discipline Code takes some positive steps to limit the use of suspension, but still lists 25 infractions for which middle and high school students can be suspended for an entire school year. There were more than 73,400 suspensions in the 2010-2011 school year alone.

City Council Member Daniel Dromm, a former teacher who worked in New York City public schools for 25 years, also spoke at the hearing.

“Despite the administration’s stated commitment to helping Black and Latino students this demographic still comprises a disproportionately high number of students hurt by our schools discipline system.The criminalization of our students must stop. The focus should be on using the discipline system to address underlying issues that cause infractions in the first place,” said Dromm.

DSC-NY is calling for a 50 percent reduction in suspensions by September 2013.

The coalition is also calling on the DOE to: End all suspensions for minor behavior infractions, like defying or disobeying authority, shoving or pushing, that are listed in Levels 1-3 of the Discipline Code.

Require that schools use positive interventions before they can suspend a student, including for behaviors like fighting listed in Levels 4-5 of the Discipline Code.

End long-term suspensions of more than 10 days.

Fund and implement positive school-wide approaches to discipline in 10 high need schools, and in each of those schools designate and train a Restorative Discipline Coordinator.

“My brother got suspended for wearing a sweatshirt in school. He felt so targeted in that school that eventually he dropped out. Each suspension plays a role in the long run of students’ educational careers. When a student misses a class they miss important information needed to pass their classes; eventually it becomes easier to fail and drop out of high school,” said Adilka Pimentel, a member of Make the Road New York.

“Schools need to implement and require the use of positive interventions and alternatives to suspensions. I am worried that if these types of changes are not made that more students like my brother and sister will continue to be pushed out of school and not on the path to graduation,” she said.

The Dignity in Schools Campaign-New York is a coalition of students, parents, educators, civil rights, students’ rights and community organizations, including: Advocates for Children of New York, Brooklyn Movement Center, Center for Community Alternatives, Children’s Defense Fund-New York, Coalition for Asian American Children and Families, Coalition for Gender Equity in Schools, Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), Future of Tomorrow, Make the Road New York, Mass Transit Street Theater, National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (NESRI), New Settlement Apartments Parent Action Committee, Pumphouse Projects, Sistas and Brothas United, Teachers Unite, The Sikh Coalition, Urban Youth Collaborative (UYC), Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, Youth on the Move, and Youth Represent.

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