The UFT sharply criticized the Department of Education for announcing a ban on suspensions of students in kindergarten through 2nd grade without having a clear citywide plan to address the needs of young students with behavioral problems.
“It is easy to ban suspensions,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew wrote in a July 21 letter to Chancellor Carmen Fariña. “It is much harder to do the real work so suspensions are no longer necessary.”
Mulgrew warned the plan would backfire if the DOE did not put the necessary supports and interventions in place.
“In a perfect world, no child under the age of 8 would ever be suspended,” he said. “But children who are in crisis and who are disrupting classrooms are not going to be helped by this plan to ban suspensions in grades K–2, and neither will the thousands of other children who will lose instruction as a result of those disruptions.”
The de Blasio administration announced the new suspension policy as part of a package of changes to the discipline code in its effort to respond to concerns that minority students, particularly African-Americans, may be driven into the criminal justice system from very early ages.
Mulgrew said the city should focus on enforcing current school safety and discipline regulations. “The Department of Education has failed to provide the needed training, support, funds and leadership,” he wrote to Fariña. “We strongly believe that if the DOE properly managed existing programs, the number of suspensions for students under the age of 8 would be greatly diminished.”
Mulgrew called for ensuring that every school has a functioning Pupil Personnel Team responsible for helping students with behavioral problems; enforcing the state requirement that every school have a SAVE room where disruptive students can be sent and a full-time person trained in crisis intervention; and increasing staff training in de-escalating student crises.
Mulgrew said there are examples across the city of a holistic approach to discipline reducing suspensions while at the same time improving school climate. One such program is a joint effort between the DOE and the UFT known as the Positive Learning Collaborative, where everyone in the school building is trained in techniques to identify and resolve behavior issues before they escalate. A UFT analysis of the data found suspensions and disciplinary incidents in schools participating in the program have dropped, and teachers and staff say they feel better equipped to help children who are misbehaving.
The UFT presented its view at a public hearing on the topic.
In August, the DOE released data showing that less than one-quarter of 1 percent of all students in kindergarten through grade 2 were suspended last year. Of those, nearly a third of the 801 suspensions handed out were for incidents of violence or serious physical disruption. Forty-seven percent of the suspensions were triggered by “altercation and/or physically aggressive behavior.” Among students who were suspended last year, 26 percent were suspended more than once. Just under one-third of the 839 district schools that teach students in those grades issued suspensions last year.