Lawmakers push bill that would make schools more “supportive”

Gazette photo by Forrest Miller
Sen. Velmanette Montgomery says “It is no longer a secret that the excessive use of suspensions create a direct path to the criminal justice system and that they are disproportionately used to discipline black and brown children. The school-to-prison pipeline must be dismantled.”

A group of lawmakers have been pushing legislation that would end some of the harsher disciplinary practices in public schools in order to make school environments more supportive.

On June 6, Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, D-Queens; Sen. Velmanette Montgomery, D-Brooklyn; and Assemblywoman Latrice Walker, D-Brooklyn, held a press conference to urge lawmakers to support their legislation.

At the press conference, youth leaders from the Urban Youth Collaborative and Make the Road New York spoke passionately about the subject of school discipline.

Also in attendance were representatives from the Supportive Schools Coalition, which includes groups such as the NYCLU, Legal Aid Society, Citizen Action of New York, and the Alliance for Quality Education.

The Judge Judith Kaye Safe and Supportive Schools bill (S.3036-a/A.3873), if passed, would end suspensions for students in kindergarten through third grade; cap long term suspensions at 20 days instead of 180 days; and promote the importance of positive interventions like restorative justice.

Restorative justice techniques include practices such as peer mediation and classroom circles designed to strengthen the relationship between students and school staff and address a conflict in a nonjudgmental manner.

The bill would also require that a school’s code of conduct include clear and specific expectations, define violations to the code of conduct, use graduated and proportionate discipline practices, define the roles and responsibilities of school personnel and law enforcement, ensure annual staff training, and include restorative approaches to proactively build a school community based upon cooperation, mutual understanding, trust and respect.

In addition, every school’s code of conduct must establish procedures by which violations are reported to the appropriate school personnel, the facts are investigated and determined, and interventions and discipline measures are decided upon and implemented.

During the 2011-12 school year, the U.S. Department of Education Civil Rights Data Collection reported that nearly 3.5 million were suspended in-school and 3.45 million were suspended out-of-school nationwide.

Data also shows that students with disabilities and students of color are more likely to be disproportionately impacted by school discipline practices.

In 2014, the U.S. Department issued guidance to assist public schools in moving away from discriminatory discipline practices and instead utilize fair, age-appropriate discipline practices that ensure a safe, inclusive school climate.

Research has shown that students who are suspended or expelled at higher rates are more likely to drop out, less likely to graduate, and more likely to be involved in the juvenile justice system.