School Discipline: What Works Best?

María C. Fernández, New York Times Opinion 

To the Editor:

“Zero Tolerance, Reconsidered” points to a national trend to end the criminalization of young people in our schools.

In New York City, during the 2012-13 school year, there were more than 53,400 suspensions. Black students made up almost 53 percent of those suspensions, when they make up only 27 percent of the student population. Although we’ve seen a decrease in suspensions, the racial disparities have not changed.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Carmen Fariña, the schools chancellor, can do what the Bloomberg administration didn’t: End harsh disciplinary policies; mandate and finance restorative justice programs and guidance interventions in all schools; end suspensions for “defying authority,” a vague, catchall infraction; train school staff systemwide to handle discipline; and revise the memorandum of understanding between the New York Police Department and the Department of Education to return school safety to the hands of educators.

The mayor’s stated commitment to addressing this issue is encouraging. Now is the time for action. New York City must lead the national movement to end the criminalization of our students.

MARÍA C. FERNÁNDEZ
Coordinator
Urban Youth Collaborative
New York, Jan. 7, 2014