On July 21, 2016, the de Blasio administration announced the elimination of suspensions for students in kindergarten through second grade.
In response to the city's announcement, UFT President Michael Mulgrew sent the following letter to Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña:
Dear Chancellor Fariña,
In a perfect world, no child under the age of eight would ever be suspended, every child having a discipline crisis would have the proper interventions by adults, and every classroom would be a positive learning environment. We are committed to working toward these goals.
Unfortunately, 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 “Zero Tolerance” policies of the previous administration clearly backfired — they never led to a nurturing school culture or even-handed discipline. At the same time, we do not believe a 180-degree pivot banning suspensions makes sense unless schools have the necessary supports and interventions in place.
The reality is that many schools are unable or unwilling to comply with current regulations because the Department of Education has failed to provide the needed training, support, funds and leadership. It is easy to ban suspensions. It is much harder to do the real work so suspensions are no longer necessary.
We strongly believe that if the DOE properly managed existing programs, the number of suspensions for students under the age of eight would be greatly diminished. Better management would also result in more schools developing a positive culture of discipline and respect. Given the DOE’s poor track record in this area, we cannot support the plan at this time.
The new plan claims that the DOE will provide schools with additional resources to address the challenges created by banning suspensions. We are skeptical these new supports will materialize. Too often, Tweed adopts policies with little understanding of how they will play out in schools and then ignores its responsibility for turning policy into reality in every school. Claiming supports are in place does not mean that they are.
We have repeatedly told the DOE many existing discipline policies are not being followed:
- Pupil Personnel Teams, created to address the needs of students struggling academically or having behavior problems, are still not functioning in many schools.
- The New York State Safe Schools Against Violence in Education (SAVE) legislation — requiring schools to have a SAVE room and a full-time person in the room trained in crisis intervention — is not being followed because many schools do not have a SAVE room or the required staff.
- Very few teachers and school staff are being trained in how to de-escalate student crises, despite changes in the Chancellor’s Regulations and the discipline code.
Without these supports in place, we are concerned that some of last year's drop in suspensions of children under the age of eight was fueled by school administrators' fears they would face repercussions if they continued to issue suspensions — and not the result of schools figuring out how to resolve student discipline problems before they reach the severity of a suspension.
We need to make sure the current discipline policies are working, and working properly. Otherwise we risk a possible disruption to thousands of classrooms and to tens of thousands of students, while failing to provide the needed help to young students with behavior problems.
President, United Federation of Teachers