NYC Schools Propose Changes to Discipline Code

Kamelia Kilawan, Gotham Gazette

The New York City Department of Education is proposing to eliminate suspensions for students who get caught breaking minor rules, such as cutting classes and cussing.

Suspensions for Level 1 and Level 2 infractions would be eliminated under the proposed changes to the schools’ discipline code. The DOE has scheduled a public hearing to discuss the proposed revisions of the code for 6 p.m. tonight at Stuyvesant High School.

“We believe a more progressive discipline is warranted with strong counseling and youth development support,” said Marge Feinberg, spokeswoman for the DOE. “We want to be able to address improper behavior before it reaches a higher level, and to do that we are focused on providing strong student support services coupled with parent involvement.”

While advocates for students say they applaud some of the changes, they say more needs to be done.

“Changes made are minor and won’t provide systemic change,” said Sarah Landes, a member of the Dignity in Schools Campaign, a collection of teachers, students and youth organizations working to reduce suspension and mandate alternative discipline methods.

Shoshi Chowdhury, coordinator for the Dignity in Schools Campaign, said the punishment of suspension should end for the first three levels of school misconduct, including insubordination, pushing and shoving. Suspension should be a last resort as it allows many students to fall behind in schools, she said. In cases of level 4 and 5 fighting in schools, positive alternatives should be offered.

Chowdhury cited one example, Lehman High School in the Bronx, which had faced a high suspension rate. She said increased funding for positive alternatives for the 2010-2011 school year has already led to a decrease in the rate of suspension.

Feinberg said “more serious infractions warrant suspensions as an option.”

Advocates have long argued that the discipline code disproportionally affects students of color and those who speak English as a Second Language.

The DOE is required under state law to review and revise the discipline code each year and make changes, if necessary. The proposed modifications are then presented to the public.