Responding to the UFT’s sharp criticism, the Department of Education has retreated from its pledge to ban all suspensions of students in kindergarten through 2nd grade.
On Jan. 13, the DOE released a draft of its proposed new discipline code, which shows that when other behavioral interventions fail, a K–2 student may still be suspended for certain behaviors when they are “repeated and involve physical violence.”
“The DOE has heard our concern that a blanket ban on suspensions is not the way to help young students in crisis,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew. “Our focus continues to be on making sure that every school has the necessary supports and interventions in place.”
Those supports and interventions include ensuring that every school has a functioning Pupil Personnel Team or crisis intervention team responsible for helping students in crisis; enforcing the state requirement that every school have a SAVE room where disruptive students can be sent; and increasing the number of guidance counselors in elementary schools.
The DOE announced the ban on suspensions of K–2 students in July 2016 as part of a series of changes to the student discipline code under the de Blasio administration, which has been vocal in its efforts to respond to concerns that minority students under the Bloomberg administration were disproportionately subjected to suspensions.
The UFT questioned the decision, voicing concerns that the policy would do little to help students whose behaviors were seriously disruptive while hampering the learning experience for other students in the same classroom.
In the fall of 2016, before the suspension ban was officially implemented, UFT representatives urged DOE officials to review the number of elementary schools without full-time guidance counselors or Pupil Personnel Teams since the DOE’s ban policy was premised on the notion that these trained professionals would be in place. Acknowledging the gaps, the DOE agreed to work toward a remedy for elementary schools with no guidance counselors and to enforce the mandate that every school have a SAVE room and a functioning crisis intervention team.
The UFT has long held the position that the DOE must provide more training for teachers on how to de-escalate situations involving students in crisis, as well as provide more funding to ensure that all schools are properly staffed to provide behavioral interventions.