Host Intro: Recently released data shows an astounding 73,000 suspensions in New York City last year. Suspension rates are on the rise across the nation and African-American students are three times as likely to be suspended as their white peers. Some teachers say that suspensions are overused, and studies show they have long-term effects. Jackie Mader reports that the new data is pushing schools to think differently about their discipline policies.
Jackie Mader: On a Monday afternoon at the Bronx Academy of Letters, Andrew Hara was trying to teach an African civilization lesson to a class of 9th graders, when a student’s cell phone started to vibrate in her backpack. This student had just returned from a suspension, and when Hara asked for her phone, she refused.
HARA: So an administrator comes in, tries to get her to step outside, “I ain’t f-ing going anywhere,” goes through it again. Hugely distracting as we’re trying to go through a history lesson.
Jackie Mader: It took the entire period, an administrator, a principal, and a public safety officer to remove the student from the class. Hara says the student’s response showed a discouraging mindset.
HARA: Her big issue was, ‘no, I’ve just been suspended for cutting class.’ Here I am in class trying to do my work and y’all want to suspend me again.
Jackie Mader: In the end, the student was allowed to stay in school. The school is trying to cut down on the number of kids who are suspended.
HARA: Now its more of like, coming up with creative ways with those individual students. We’ve tried different intervention plans, contracts, behavior plans…So we’re trying it all.
Jackie Mader: Bronx Academy’s flexible approach is the exception. In New York City, suspensions are up 130 percent since 2003. There are actually only a small number of offenses that actually require a suspension, like bringing a weapon to school or starting a fire. For less serious cases, Hara says that suspensions don’t always solve much.
HARA: Are they necessary sometimes? Personally, I think so. Are they necessary in the numbers we’re seeing? Probably not.
Jackie Mader: Julia Kaye is the director of an advocacy group which trains law students to represent suspended students at hearings. Kaye says school officials often ask for harsher punishments than offenses deserve.
KAYE: We had a case recently where a six year old student, six years old, was charged with biting a teacher’s toe,
Jackie Mader: Kaye says the school asked for a 30 day suspension.
KAYE: To respond like that to a young child is just horrifying.
Jackie Mader: Carl Carpenter’s fifth grade class at P.S. 325 in Morningside Heights, had a rough day yesterday.
AMB of CARPENTER: “Ok so how did yesterday go? Compared to how it should have been?
Jackie Mader: Bad, one of the kids responded. It had been a long day of testing, and the kids were tired.
AMB: (of kids) Carpenter: But today is going to be better.
Jackie Mader: Carpenter has found that discussing behavior with students is more beneficial than resorting to suspensions. But one of his student was suspended earlier this year. He threatened a teacher.
CARPENTER: He responded to the suspension by throwing things around the class…He then cried uncontrollably and tried to reason with the teacher, but by that time it was obviously too late and he was sent home.
Jackie Mader: This student’s behavior hasn’t changed much since returning from the suspension. But Carpenter has tried to build a relationship with the student to understand where he is coming from.
CARPENTER: I think knowing that he has older siblings who have been in prison, dealing drugs, you know, you can understand where some of his behavior comes from
Jackie Mader: Studies show that long-term consequences of suspensions are devastating to kids. Legal services attorney Andy Artz says that suspension is part of a school to prison pipeline.
ARTZ: Students who are suspended are much more likely to drop out of school, much more likely to be arrested, much more likely to end up in the criminal justice system as adults.
Jackie Mader: Artz says that the majority of suspensions are at low-income schools and most of those suspended are African American or Latino. He says racism or stereotyping might be a factor in the disproportionate suspension rate for minorities. These schools are some of the toughest, and officials are attempting to tackle behavior.
ARTZ: In some ways the department of education has chosen to stress things like policing in schools over prioritizing guidance counseling.
Jackie Mader: For now, the hard line approach is still the policy of the Department of Education and suspension numbers may continue to increase. Jackie Mader, Columbia Radio News.