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UFT: Resources needed to prevent student suspensions

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UFT Director of School Safety David Kazansky calls for more resources for schools, including for peer-mediation and crisis-intervention programs.

Too many New York City public school students are suspended or arrested, UFT Director of School Safety David Kazansky said at an April 15 press conference at City Hall.

Kazansky called on the Department of Education to move beyond its narrow emphasis on testing and instead put more resources into peer-mediation and crisis-intervention programs and the hiring of more mental health professionals for the schools.

“Real change in school culture comes from systemwide efforts,” Kazansky said.

Joining Kazansky were high school students from the group Dignity in Schools, education activists from New Yorkers for Great Public Schools and a host of political leaders, including two Democratic candidates for mayor, City Comptroller John Liu and former Comptroller William Thompson, as well as representatives of other Democratic mayoral candidates.

Organized by Dignity in Schools, the press conference called for the next mayor to end zero-tolerance discipline policies that disproportionately affect students of color.

“A lot of black and Latino students are pushed out of school and into the school-to-prison pipeline,” said Benia Darius, an 11th-grader from Brooklyn’s Bushwick School for Social Justice.

Shortly after the press conference, Kazansky testified before the City Council Committees on Education, Juvenile Justice and Public Safety.

“Student suspensions, if necessary at all, should be a last resort after all other strategies have failed,” Kazansky told council members.

He called for a broader adoption by schools of a restorative justice approach now used at only 10 schools. It “gives students ownership of their behavior and makes them responsible for doing something to make it right.”

Schools also need more guidance counselors, social workers and school psychologists, Kazansky said, noting that “their caseloads are bursting” in schools where they are present.

Ultimately, students would be better served with less emphasis on discipline and more on prevention and intervention, he said.

Kazansky also announced the September launch of a new UFT initiative, Safety in Numbers. It will call on educators to report all disciplinary incidents and will provide a training module for staff to change a school’s culture.

Read Kazansky’s full testimony.

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