By Andrea Karshan
Mayor Bill de Blasio yesterday announced the second phase of public school reforms to promote safer schools, end punitive school discipline policies, and increase mental health services for students.
The new school climate initiatives includes a ban on the suspension of students grades K-2, removal or addition of scanners in schools, an expansion of services to high-risk students, including mental health services and an expansion of NYPD reporting on school data such as arrests, summonses and handcuffing.
An additional $47 million dollars will be spent annually to support the school climate initiatives and mental health services. Reforms already made by the de Blasio administration have dropped suspensions 32 percent in the first half of the 2015-2016 school year compared to the same period in the 2014-2015 school year.
“Students feel safest when lines of responsibility and rules are crystal clear. Today’s reforms ensure that school environments are safe and structured. The reforms also empower educators and families with more data and greater clarity on school safety policies,” said de Blasio.
“In partnership with the NYPD, my administration will continue to monitor school safety data to ensure enduring reductions in disciplinary disparities while improving school safety citywide,” he added.
United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew responded to the initiative with a letter to Department of Education Chancellor Carmen Fariña questioning the carte blanche ending of suspensions for K-2 students, and said the union at this time cannot support the plan.
“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,” wrote Mulgrew.
“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 letter added.
The pro-school choice organizationFamilies for Excellent Schools also ripped into the plan noting that state education data shows that 2015 was the city’s most violent school year on record, with violent incidents up 23 percent. Weapon possession rose 25 percent overall during the 2014-15 school year.
“Unfortunately, today’s announcement is full of the misleading rhetoric that families have come to expect from the de Blasio administration. Chancellor Fariña and Commissioner Bratton may paint a rosy picture of decreased crime in schools, but the facts still remain — weapons recoveries are up 26%, violent incidents are up 23% and thousands of students lack relief from bullying, harassment and abuse,” said FES CEO Jeremiah Kittredge.
But the pro-traditional public schoolsAlliance for Quality Education said the reforms are a step in the right direction, and show a firm commitment to moving toward dismantling the racially biased school-to-prison where black students make up only 27% of NYC students, yet they represent over 63% of all arrests made.
“AQE supports this shift and urges a continued dedication to dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline as well as thoughtfulness around the long-term effects of punitive school discipline — there is still much work to be done to tackle the implicit biases and systemic racism that permeate school disciplinary practices,” said AQE Advocacy Director Zakiyah Ansari.
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