Thursday, May 31, 2012

J.C., Brooklyn Bridge Academy High School

“One of the times I was suspended was when I was in the 8th grade.  This girl was going around talking about me so when I went to press her about it she hit me, so I started fighting.  Then we went outside the school and started fighting.  After we finished fighting she went back to the school and told on me.  So when I went back to school the next day they told me I couldn’t come back for 90 days and I got arrested. The most recent time I was suspended was in high school.  I got into a fight and they suspended me for 60 days. I don’t know what the other girl got.  But I got 60 days.”

 J.C. is 18 years old and currently at Brooklyn Bridge Academy High School 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Marcus in Queens

Marcus (whose name was changed to protect his identity) was absent for two days. I called his mom to check in, as is my custom when a student is out for more than one day, and she told me that the incident we had discussed during the previous week had landed Marcus a suspension hearing, a possible superintendent's suspension, and up to three months in an alternative learning center. It had been reported that Marcus jumped a student outside of school during the week prior, however, there was very little evidence to back up this claim and although in the reports there was more than one person involved, Marcus was the only one accused and prosecuted. He was given a full two-month suspension and his time was extended for an incident that took place in the alternative learning center. When he came back to take the state English Language Arts and math exam he told me he was guessing on every question because he hadn’t learned anything since he left our school. His extreme lack of confidence, as an effect of his suspension, resulted in an inability to access his short and long term memory and complete his work to the best of his ability.

- Sarah Arvey, 7th grade teacher in math and science special education in a Queens public school

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Fifth Grader "A"

A is a 5th grader in Queens. In class one day in April 2012, he got into a fight with another boy. His teacher broke up the fight and separated the two boys. In the process of trying to get back to the other boy, A hit his teacher. He was suspended and charged with an A34 violation in the Discipline Code. The school recommended a suspension of one year, despite the fact that this is well beyond the maximum disciplinary response allowed under the Discipline Code for A34.

Additionally, the school knew that A's older brother had been killed in December, and A was having an extremely difficult time dealing with his brother's death. Instead of helping A deal with his family tragedy, by offering him more counseling or anger management, the school chose to try to keep A out for one year.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Fifth Grader "B"

B, a 5th grader in the Bronx, was playing tag with his friends at recess in March 2012; another little boy was chasing him and knocked into him, causing B to accidentally bump into his friend, who fell and hit her head against a wall.

A lunch aide promptly pulled B across the school yard and told him he was responsible for the girl's injuries. When he went to the guidance counselor, he tried to explain that it was an accident, but she said, "No, you pushed her on purpose." Despite the fact that a number of the children who witnessed the incident also said that it was an accident, B was suspended and charged with pushing the girl, causing her head to hit the wall. Not only did the school suspend him, but they also gave him detention AND excluded him from his extracurricular math tutoring (before the suspension hearing even took place). 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Eighth Grader "T"

T is an 8th grader in Queens. One day in March 2012 she was walking outside from lunch, and another girl, R, confronted her about an earlier incident that had occurred between R and T's aunt. R testified that she initiated the altercation, and started throwing punches at T, grabbed her by the hair, and kicked her in the face. T had bruises on her face and had to go to the doctor. R's only injuries were to her hands, from punching T. Both girls were arrested and suspended; the infraction code was B37. Not once did the school attempt to schedule any kind of mediation or guidance intervention between the two girls, despite the fact that they were on notice that T had been repeatedly bullied by R. In addition, T had never even had a detention before, let alone a Principal's or Superintendent's suspension, yet the school chose to suspend her for this incident.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Eighth Grader Martin

Martin is an eighth grade student at IS 125 in the Bronx.  Recently Martin's principal stopped him in the stairwell and asked him to hand over the headphones around his neck and also his sweatshirt. Martin's school has a policy that electronics and hooded sweatshirts are not permitted.  Even though Martin did not have his hood up and had put on his sweatshirt because he was cold, he was in violation of the policy. Martin asked if he could call his mother because he was worried he would get in trouble for coming home without his things.  As Martin and the principal walked to the SAVE room to use the phone, the principal said something that irritated Martin, and when Martin tried to walk away the principal physically stopped him and held Martin against the hallway doors.  The principal did not ask the crisis intervention teacher to assist him even though she was right there in the hallway when the incident took place.  Martin was upset with the principal, but went with the teacher a security guard to the SAVE room.  He was calming down when the principal came into the SAVE room himself, escalating the situation again.  Martin wanted to leave the SAVE room but the principal blocked the door.  Martin brushed past him and left.  The school requested a 60-day extended Superintendent's suspension for Martin for failing to give the principal his sweatshirt and headphones, and for threatening and pushing past the principal. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Eleven Year-Old “H”

H is an 11-year-old sixth grader in Queens. He has an IEP with a classification of Emotional Disturbance, and has been diagnosed with ADHD. H was repeatedly bullied from the time he started middle school. His parents wrote to the school each time a bullying incident occurred, but very little was done to address the situation. In February 2012, a boy pushed H into a wall. A moment later, the assistant principal walked by. H became extremely upset that the AP hadn't helped him or stopped the other boy. The situation escalated, and H was suspended. He pleaded no contest and received a 30-day suspension. H continued to be bullied at his suspension site, so the school requested a safety transfer, and H was placed in a new site. At this second suspension site, H was suspended again. On the day in question, H found a broken piece of pen on the ground and was holding it in his hand. According to H's teacher, after he confiscated the broken piece of pen and was leading H to the principal's office, H (while no longer in possession of the pen) stated, "I feel like stabbing someone." For this alleged comment, H received a suspension for the rest of the school year. He is now at his third suspension site since his February suspension. 

He is still being bullied, and his teachers are giving him busy work to complete instead of appropriate schoolwork that would allow him to progress. Because he has transferred suspension sites so many times, he has not received grades for the last marking period, and despite his mother's attempts to figure out what this means and what the implications are, no one has been able to give her any answers. H has been out of school for over 3 months now for what began with an incident which could have been addressed by mediation or guidance intervention with H and the boys who were bullying him.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Twelve Year-Old Omar

Omar is twelve years old and in seventh grade.  His teachers agree that he is very bright and could be excelling in school, but he has struggled with behavioral issues ever since he started sixth grade last year at the Cornerstone Academy for Social Action in the Bronx.  Over the past two years, Omar has been suspended at least 20 times, most often for disruptive behavior, inappropriate language, or insubordination.  Omar has served most of these suspensions in his school's SAVE room, but the school has also imposed three Superintendent's suspensions.  The exact number of suspensions Omar has faced is unknown because usually the principal or assistant principal tells Omar he has to go to the SAVE room for the day or for the next few days and calls his mother, but does not keep an official record of the suspension, and does not give his mother notice of the suspension in writing.

The school has tried meeting with Omar and his mother, and tried having Omar write letters of apology for his behavior.  But the school does not have a full-time guidance counselor, and Omar's behaviors persist. Omar's mother requested months ago that the school develop a formal Behavioral Intervention Plan for Omar, but the school has not followed through.  Today, Omar is out on suspension, awaiting another Superintendent's suspension hearing next week.

To Read More About Omar's Story Click:

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

We call on the New York City Department of Education to Take Action Now!

The Dignity in Schools Campaign-New York is calling for more systemic changes that would significantly limit the number of incidents that result in suspension and require the use of positive guidance interventions as alternatives to suspension.  DSC-NY is calling for a 50% reduction in suspensions by September 2013 and for implementation of positive approaches to discipline, like restorative justice, conflict resolution and peer mediation, in all schools.  Leading up to the DOE hearing on revisions to the Discipline Code to take place this June 5th, DSC-NY is calling on the DOE to:

1.     End all suspensions for minor behavior infractions, like being insubordinate or shoving or pushing, that are listed in Levels 1-3 of the Discipline Code.

2.     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, and direct schools to use suspension only as a last resort.

3.     End long-term suspensions of more than 10 days and prohibit students from being suspended for more than 10 days total over the school year.

4.     Fund and implement positive school-wide approaches to discipline in 10 high need schools, including those with the highest suspension and arrest rates, and in each of those schools designate and train a Restorative Discipline Coordinator.

We urge that you work with us to ensure that positive alternatives to suspensions and arrests are implemented in NYC public schools!


Members of the Dignity in Schools Campaign-New York: 

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, Future of Tomorrow, Make the Road New York, Mass Transit Street Theater, National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, New Settlement Apartments Parent Action Committee, Pumphouse Projects, Sistas and Brothas United, Teachers Unite, The Sikh Coalition, Urban Youth Collaborative, Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, Youth on the Move, and Youth Represent