A Step Toward Ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline

Gotham Gazette

by Christine Rodriguez, August 17th, 2005

For years, the school-to-prison pipeline has afflicted communities of color in New York. From a young age, students begin to be treated like criminals within the confines of their own schools—from being handcuffed, suspended, and arrested for minor incidents to starting the day by walking through metal detectors and having police be the first people they see.

Young people treated as criminals in school are much less likely to succeed. I’ve seen it first-hand among my high school peers. There are more police officers than counselors in our schools, which makes students feel like they are expected to end up in jail rather college.

This year, I graduated from high school, and I am committed to help end the school-to-prison pipeline. We must stop pushing youth out of school – New York City should be leading the way.

Recently, there was good news for New Yorkers who want to see an end to punitive discipline and more support of students to succeed. The Mayor’s Leadership Team on School Climate and Discipline, convened earlier this year and of which I am a member, issued a set of recommendations last month that include measures to reduce school suspensions and arrests, address racial disparities, and collect more important data that will show what we know has been happening inside our schools.

The de Blasio administration, which convened the Leadership Team, has responded enthusiastically, and has committed to incorporating these recommendations into official city policy. Already, the administration has issued a new mission statement that includes a commitment to “reduce the use of suspensions as a disciplinary tool and will eliminate the use of summonses and arrests for minor school misbehavior while continuing to advance school safety.”

The time is right for strong action. Students cannot wait. In 2011, Make the Road New York and many of our partners worked to pass the Student Safety Act, which for the first time made public what we already knew: too many black and Latino youth are being pushed out of school through arrests and suspensions for minor behaviors. The situation has improved under Mayor de Blasio’s leadership, but there are still major disparities in school suspensions and arrests that are hurting young people of color and students with disabilities across our city.

And, under the 2011 law, we are still not able to collect data on hundreds of arrests by police offers, all suspensions, and the use of handcuffs and other restraints (which have been used on students as young as five years old). We look forward to getting this data soon.

The new recommendations from the Leadership Team acknowledge continuing challenges and signal a citywide commitment to reform. There is no time to waste.

The next step will be critical. In the coming months, the de Blasio administration, the Department of Education, and the NYPD will work to turn these recommendations into policy. Meanwhile, they will need to ensure that young people of color—who have been disparately affected by this problem—continue to be part of this conversation, weighing in on how we are being treated in our city’s schools and making sure that our wellbeing is front and center in the public discussion.

Equally important, resources need to be allocated to implement new programs, trainings, and staffing to make policy changes effective and ultimately successful.

We’re moving in the right direction, but we can’t stop now.

Christine Rodriguez is a Youth Power Project member of Make the Road New York, the largest grassroots community organization in New York offering services and organizing the immigrant community, and a member of the Mayor’s Leadership Team on School Climate and Discipline. On Twitter: @maketheroadny

A Step Towards Ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline


Educators call for an End to Suspensions for Minor Infractions


Suspensions for low-level infractions are jeopardizing the education of many New York City children, and they must stop now.

Because the city’s public schools have, over many years, failed to invest in proactive, positive approaches to discipline, they continue to use suspensions to deal with minor infractions.

The result? Thousands of students, punished rather than properly supported, drop out of school and end up unprepared for a successful future.

If this doesn’t change under Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Fariña, who have talked repeatedly about the need to serve all kids, it probably never will.

The use of harsh discipline has produced a culture in which we don’t help students to learn from mistakes — we just kick them out. And when we suspend students, we actually increase the likelihood of future behavior problems.

Youth suspended just once in ninth grade are twice as likely to drop out of school compared to their peers. Students who are suspended or expelled for a “discretionary action,” such as defying authority, are nearly three times more likely to have contact with the juvenile justice system.

We’re not talking here about a tiny universe of serious troublemakers, but about a sizable chunk of the student population.

According to the Department of Education, there were 53,504 suspensions in New York City during the last school year. Black students make up about 26% of the student population, but were 53% of those suspensions. Students with special needs or disabilities make up 19% of our students but were 36% of the suspensions.

And guess what? The most common reason for suspensions in New York City was “Infraction B-21: Defying or disobeying the lawful authority or directive of school personnel.”

Translation, in many cases: Talking back to a teacher or principal.

What we have here is the stop-and-frisk of school discipline policies. It might have been conceived as a neutral policy, but that’s not the way it plays out in practice. While the Department of Education Discipline Code outlines a range of nine possible responses to a B-21 infraction, far too often the response is still a suspension.

Ending this is not a new or unprecedented idea. As the body of national discipline research has grown, school systems around the country have started recognizing the logical inconsistency of pushing students who need to learn out of the schools that provide them an education.

Just last year, the Los Angeles school district — second largest in the U.S. behind New York’s — banned suspensions for “willful defiance.” Since then, suspensions have dropped 40% for black and Latino students.

What’s the better approach? Restorative justice programs that challenge students to take responsibility and make amends for their behavior, creating a safer and more positive environment for everyone in the school building. We should also roll out conflict resolution, collaborative problem-solving, peer mediation and mentoring programs.

We often are told we don’t have the resources, training or time to handle conflict and discipline in a constructive way.

And yet we do have about $200 millionto place thousands of School Safety Officers in our schools. In fact, there are more School Safety Officers in New York City schools than guidance counselors.

We all desire and need the kind of transformational change in New York City that will ensure a quality education for all of our children. Let’s stop trying to suspend our way out of the problem.

Brewster is a community coordinator at James Baldwin High School, a transfer school in Manhattan. Rubenstein is a special education teacher at a Brooklyn transfer high school. Transfer schools are for students who have previously dropped out or fallen behind in credits.

EXCLUSIVE: City Council members want Mayor de Blasio to fix school discipline code, which they say is biased

Erin Durkin, Daily News

Five council members want to end suspensions for what they call vague and poorly defined infractions that unfairly target black and Latino males. They want Mayor de Blasio to overhaul the discipline code for city schools.

City Council members are pushing Mayor de Blasio to overhaul the discipline code for city public schools and cut down on suspensions.

In a letter to de Blasio and city Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, five pols are seeking to end suspensions for what they call vague and poorly defined infractions that unfairly target black and Latino males.

“Stop-and-frisk has disproportionately criminalized young men of color on the streets of our city, and harsh disciplinary practices are doing the same thing in our public schools,” they wrote. “It’s unfair and it’s wrong.”

The authors — City Councilmen Ritchie Torres, Rafael Espinal, Antonio Reynoso, Donovan Richards and Carlos Menchaca — say they “have experienced these biases firsthand.”

A city Education Department spokeswoman said the administration has been meeting with advocacy groups and educators to address the issue.

Principal to Chancellor: Take the Lead on School Discipline

Brady Smith, Gotham Gazette 

“Our schools are learning places. They’re not suspension places,” said Chancellor Fariña to a room full of principals this past Saturday. Could this mean real change in the way we view students in the classroom?

In Los Angeles schools, they call it “willful defiance”; elsewhere, “insubordination.” InNew York City, “B21″ or “defying or disobeying lawful authority” is the second most common reason students are suspended in school each day (based on the data we have available).

Last year in New York City schools, black students, who comprise less than a third of the student population, served more than half of the suspensions citywide. Students with disabilities, making up twelve percent of the student body, served a whopping thirty percent of principal and superintendent suspensions. Are our black students or students with special needs more disruptive, or more dangerous, than their white peers? No.

Read more

Segregation: Six Decades Dead In Court, But Still Alive In Many Schools

Claudio Sanchez, NPR

Sixty years after Brown v. Board of Educationblack and white children still attend segregated schools in many parts of the country. Majority black schools are less likely to have good teachers, and kids there are more likely to be poor. That, experts say, is the single biggest obstacle to their academic success.