New City Suspension Data Shows Suspensions are Down but Racial Disparities Persist

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
October 31, 2016 3:15 pm

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The New York City Department of Education today released school suspension data for the full 2015-16 year. The numbers show that, while suspensions continue to decline, severe racial disparities persist, especially between Black and white students.

“These numbers provide yet more evidence that exclusionary discipline is not the solution to making schools safer,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “The city must turn its focus to eliminating the troubling racial disparities that continue to plague our schools and keep them from being safe, nurturing environments for all students.”

The data released today show that principal suspensions have dropped 52 percent between the 2011-12 school year and 2015-16. Superintendent suspensions fell by 21 percent during that same time period. Furthermore, principal suspensions dropped 20 percent between 2014-15 and 2015-16, while superintendent suspensions fell by 3 percent. This comes as city public schools have experienced a 35 percent decrease in serious crimes over the last five years.

Teacher removals are also up 3 percent since the 2011-2012 school year. While some see teacher removals as more positive interventions than suspensions, they also enable a student to be removed from class for up to five days without official process.

But there are still concerns about who is being suspended. The data shows that Black students were 3.6 times more likely to be suspended than white students in 2015-16 and Hispanic children were 1.7 times more likely to be kicked out of school than their white peers. Between 2013 and 2015, the rate of racial disparity in suspensions changed negligibly from 4.04 to 3.94.

Between 2011-12 and 2015-16, the number of suspensions for insubordination dropped 85 percent. Among the top five reasons for suspensions are minor altercations (which can include throwing a pencil), intimidating behavior or possession for a category 1 weapon (which can include a keychain). The NYCLU shortly will release a full analysis of student discipline data including suspensions, arrests, summonses and handcuffs.

For years, schoolchildren in New York City have been subjected to overly punitive school discipline policies that push students out of school, increase drop-out rates and unfairly impact students of color and those with special needs. Rather than creating a safe, supportive and nurturing environment in city schools, the overreliance on suspensions contributed to a School to Prison Pipeline for students of color and denied many schoolchildren their right to an education.

In 2015, Mayor de Blasio announced a series of policy initiatives to improve the climate in New York City public schools and end overly punitive school discipline policies that have been widely discredited as discriminatory and ineffective. The roadmap, which includes training school personnel in de-escalation and non-punitive discipline methods, is based on recommendations developed by the Mayor’s Leadership Team on School Climate and Discipline, a team which includes Lieberman.

In July, the city announced support for changes to the discipline code, drawn from recommendations from the Leadership Team, that will ban suspensions for students in Kindergarten through second grade, and a recommendation to adopt a memorandum of understanding that limits the authority of school safety officers to interfere in student discipline issues.

“It’s encouraging that suspensions continue to fall, but we must make sure that no student is suspended for trivial reasons,” said NYCLU Advocacy Director Johanna Miller. “The city must continue to invest in restorative and supportive resources that schools desperately need.”

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