Friday, October 5, 2012

New Yorkers March Across Brooklyn Bridge and Join Over 20 Other Cities in Actions to Call Attention to High Suspension Rates

Contact: Shoshi Chowdhury, Dignity in Schools Campaign-NY,

New Yorkers March Across Brooklyn Bridge and Join Over 20 Other Cities in Actions to Call Attention to High Suspension Rates

New York, NY - On Friday, October 5 at 7:00 p.m., New York City students, parents, teachers and community members will begin a candle light vigil and march across the Brooklyn Bridge carrying life-size cut outs of students, representing 260 number of students suspended every day in New York City public schools. 

“I am one of the many students who was suspended more than once last year and missed more than ten days of class,” said Estefan Peña, a leader at Sistas and Brothas United and a student at the Kennedy High School Campus. “I was suspended three times for conflicts with my peers and instead of having a mediation with the other students to resolve our conflicts we were suspended. Each time I returned to class from a suspension, I was further behind in my work.”

The march, organized by the Dignity in Schools Campaign-New York (DSC-NY), is part of the 3rd Annual National Week of Action on School Pushout, with communities in over 20 cities across the country holding marches, rallies, teach-ins and trainings from September 29 – October 6 to raise awareness about the more than 3 million students suspended out-of-school each year and call on states and school districts to implement positive discipline policies.

In the 2010-2011 school year in NYC, there were 73,441 suspensions. Over 29% of the students suspended, nearly 14,000 students, received more than one suspension in a single school year. The DSC-NY coalition is calling for a 50% reduction in suspensions by September 2013 and for citywide funding and implementation of positive, school-wide approaches to discipline that will reduce conflict, improve school climate and increase learning.

Last month, the Department of Education released a new Discipline Code that includes some positive changes proposed by DSC-NY, such as eliminating suspensions for minor Level 2 infractions, like using profane language, and calling on schools to use positive interventions like counseling and restorative practices to address these behaviors.

Matthew Guldin, a member of Teachers Unite and DSC-NY, stresses the importance of using positive responses to behavior rather than suspensions. “School-wide restorative justice practices focus on helping kids and teens mature by teaching them much needed social skills,” said Matthew.  “Once our children are equipped with these skills they can better handle their emotions and deal with conflict, and in those instances where our kids still do act out restorative justice focuses on the person who did harm to another learning to take responsibility for his or her actions and looks for ways that the harm can be repaired.”

DSC-NY is calling for the Department of Education to go further by mandating the use positive interventions before schools can suspend a student for other behaviors like fighting, to end suspensions of more than 10 days, and to fund and implement positive school-wide approaches to discipline, especially in high need schools.

The march will start today at 7:00 p.m. at the Brooklyn entrance to the Bridge at Cadman Plaza and Prospect Street. Students, parents and teachers will march to Tower One for a press conference and speakout and then complete the march on the Manhattan side.

Members include: Advocates for Children of New York, American Friends Service Committee- NY, 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 (DRUM), Future of Tomorrow, Make the Road New York, Mass Transit Street Theater, National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (NESRI), New Settlement Apartments Parent Action Committee, Pumphouse Projects, Sistas and Brothas United, Teachers Unite, The Sikh Coalition, Urban Youth Collaborative (UYC), Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, Youth on the Move, and Youth Represent.



Every March, the 11th grade students in my U.S. History and Government courses spend five weeks working in teams on a “Moot Court” project that has become the seminal academic experience of upperclassmen at our school.  The teams read & research real First and Fourth Amendment Supreme Court cases and then develop arguments and present in front of guests “justices.” After eight years of Moot Court at our school, 11th graders – almost without exception – take this project VERY seriously.
Two years ago, there was Moot Court team of four young men who requested specifically to be together, arguing that they were prepared to rise to the occasion and wanted the opportunity to be a good influence on one another and “prove everyone else wrong.”  This group of young men – Ivan, Jon, Ricardo & David – may have been a risky assemblage, but it was working.  By week four, they were still excited, focused and committed -- to editing and re-editing their briefs, to staying after school to read pieces of the Constitution to one another, and to telling each other how to make the best kind of eye contact when at the speaker’s podium.
But, just at the end of week four, only one week before the final presentations of their cases, three of these young men were pulled into a nasty, violent, inter-school fight with students from a middle school with whom we share a school building. The fight had been developing over several weeks and was the result of out-of-school turf tension around the two sets of projects across the street from our school.  All of the young men involved – about 10 total – expressed feeling little control in the events that led to this violent confrontation and appealed to the adults in the building to help preemptively mediate tension like this in the future.
Ivan, Jon & Ricardo never got to present in Moot Court. They were each given a 60-day suspension at an alternate site. David was left to present with a group that was not his own – a group that had never worked with him late into the evening on making the perfect eye contact.  Moreover, Ivan, Jon & Ricardo were never again as engaged at school as I’d seen from them during that Moot Court March: Ricardo, who was in line to be our senior basketball captain, felt forced to transfer to a school without a basketball team; Jon’s aunt sent him to live in New Jersey with distant relatives; and Ivan spent his senior year openly mistrusting every adult (and student, for that matter) in our school building. Even David, while not involved directly in the fight nor the suspensions, was listless for months, wondering about the hole in his life and his classes that was Ivan, Jon & Ricardo.
So, as educators, what did we give to these young men? A 60-day suspension and some transfer forms? We could have done so much more for this risky-but-working team who wanted so badly to prove themselves.
- EEM, 11th & 12th grade U.S. History & Government teacher in a small, public, non-charter school in the South Bronx