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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Report: Education Interrupted: The Growing Use of Suspensions in New York City’s Public Schools (2011)

From Betsy Combier:

More than six years ago a parent friend of mine asked me to help her son, a middle school hispanic boy with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for "emotional disturbance", who had been accused of something that he did not do and had been suspended. I agreed be the advocate and to do the suspension hearing at the New York City hearing office at the old Board of Education building, 110 Livingston Street, Brooklyn. What I saw and experienced that day changed my perception of public school education permanently.

First, the hearing officer told me that he would not admit the IEP into evidence, as this information would not impact his decision. A lengthy argument followed, as I know that often, the behavior of children with special needs are manifestations of their disability, and can influence their actions. Children should not be punished for having special needs. The Hearing Officer told me that he never looked nor considered IEPs, as these papers were not under his jurisdiction.

In NYC children and young adults are punished for having a disability. That is, kids are suspended any day of the week for acting up in the classroom or, sadly, for doing nothing at all, if they are black or hispanic and have an IEP. An IEP brings in money. Schools need money. Principals figured out many years ago that one way to make money is to take it by suspending a child whose parents are not able to fight back, put the child in a "save room" or suspension site, and take the money given the child. It's really very simple.

Second, the hearing officer started with the statement that the student would have to prove his innocence, as the principal had filed an electronic summary of the incident (on the Online Occurence Reporting System "OORS") and the investigation "proved" that the student "did it". Thus, the suspended child is guilty and must prove his or her innocence. This is impossible as the Klein/Bloomberg administration 'urges' Hearing Officers to find guilt if the student was in school the day of the occurrence. In some cases, the HO finds guilt even if the student wasnt there. I asked the H.O. why the Principal's folder was open in front of him, and requested that he recuse himself as he had read the alleged "facts" in the case before the hearing started. He refused.

I "won" the suspension hearing for my friend's son. I brought in all the laws, Chancellor's Regulations, statements of peers, etc that I had gathered, and kept the hearing open for four days. The Hearing officer was last seen leaving the hearing room wringing his hands and shaking. The last time I made an appearance at the NYC Suspension Hearing Office, now located on West 125th Street, all the Hearing Officers recused themselves. The suspended student went back to the school.

And, here's the punchline: in the six years that I have been providing advocacy at the suspension hearing offices in NYC I have never seen a white face.

Below is a thumbnail of the New York Civil Liberties Union report, and the complete Report in a PDF. First, read about how the NYC Board of Education knew all about their using suspensions as a way to get kids out of their schools:

Officials were given advance warning on special-ed suspensions, memo shows
Friday, January 28th 2011, 4:00 AM

City officials got advance warning that schools were overusing student suspensions as a disciplinary tool, an internal city Education Department memo shows.

Before suspensions hit their highest level in the last decade, the memo written by a staffer at a Bronx suspension site documented that special education students were too often punished with removal from their schools.

Roughly 40% of the students at Bronx sites were special education students, according to the memo, and 60% of those kids had a mental illness.

"Suspension is not the answer in these cases and is indeed detrimental to their growth," the memo from November 2008 concludes.

In 2008-09, kids were punished with nearly 74,000 suspensions - up from 44,000 in the 1999-2000 school year.

The memo documented a high number of suspensions in some small schools. Principals, teachers and other staffers in those schools offered several excuses for suspending so many special education students, the memo reports, including teachers' inexperience. But there were also more troubling explanations:

- "We're not set up to deal with this population. We don't have (12 students for one teacher) classes or enough guidance and support."

- "It's either teaching the (regular education students) or bothering with (the special education students) at the expense of the general ed."

The report calls for "additional support and services" for the children at small schools, the memo states.

A report issued Thursday by the New York Civil Liberties Union echoed the internal memo, finding that special education students were four times more likely than their general education peers to serve a suspension.

"This memo should have been a wakeup call to the Department of Education to get its act together," said NYCLU advocacy director Udi Ofer. "We hope that our report today will be the final alarm that triggers a response."

City Education Department spokeswoman Natalie Ravitz said she could not locate the memo yesterday and declined to comment further.

Report: Education Interrupted: The Growing Use of Suspensions in New York City’s Public Schools (2011)

The New York State Constitution guarantees a free public education to all children in New York. In addition, both international human rights bodies and U.S. courts have recognized that a free education is the cornerstone of success and social development for young people. In Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court unequivocally stated, “In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education.”

Unfortunately, growing reliance on exclusionary punishments such as suspensions effectively denies many children their right to an education. This is true nationwide, and also in New York City, where zero tolerance discipline is the norm. The New York Civil Liberties Union analyzed 10 years of discipline data from New York City schools, and found that:

* The total number of suspensions in New York City grew at an alarming rate over the last decade: One out of every 14 students was suspended in 2008-2009; in 1999-2000 it was one in 25. In 2008-2009, this added up to more than 73,000 suspensions.

* Students with disabilities are four times more likely to be suspended than students without disabilities.

*Black students, who comprise 33 percent of the student body, served 53 percent of suspensions over the past 10 years. Black students with disabilities represent more than 50 percent of suspended students with disabilities.

* Black students also served longer suspensions on average and were more likely to be suspended for subjective misconduct, like profanity and insubordination.

* Suspensions are becoming longer: More than 20 percent of suspensions lasted more than one week in 2008-2009, compared to 14 percent in 1999-2000. The average length of a long-term suspension is five weeks (25 school days).

* Between 2001 and 2010, the number of infractions listed in the schools’ Discipline Code increased by 49 percent. During that same period, the number of zero tolerance infractions, which mandate a suspension regardless of the individual facts of the incident, increased by 200 percent.

* Thirty percent of suspensions occur during March and June of each school year.