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Saturday, November 17, 2012

NYC DOE Suspending 4-5 Year Olds, and Secret SOHO Reports

SOHO documents are secret reports that no one except a principal, Assistant Principal, and/or a Dean are supposed to see. SOHO stands for "Suspensions and Office of Hearing Online (SOHO)".
SOHO are pages which are kept under lock and key (password protected) at a school, and no parent or teacher is allowed access. SOHO can be reached by giving a password to get into OORS, or Online Occurrence Reporting System, on a computer at a school. In OORS, an incident that is reported is written up and filed. If a principal wants to charge a teacher, all he or she has to do is make up what happened as if the teacher had committed the misconduct. Then this report is sent to SCI or OSI for review. If the principal/AP/Dean wants to accuse the student, then the OORS is filled out as if the child who was the alleged perpetrator was guilty, and the person filling out the OORS clicks into "SOHO" on the OORS form, and this leads to a Superintendent's suspension of the child who allegedly committed the misconduct. Then OSI or SCI send an email reply to the principal telling him/her whether or not they will investigate, or whether the so-called "investigation" will be in-house.

If the teacher/staff member is accused, then the teacher may be removed immediately from his/her classroom and re-assigned to a "new rubber room" while the Gotcha Squad gets to work setting up the teacher for 3020-a (if the teacher/staff member is tenured) or discontinuance (if the teacher/staff member is probationary). When the charging Attorney in the Gotcha Squad has enough information, gathered through Technical Assistance Conference (TAC) memos and witnesses to "prove" that the teacher/staff member is guilty of whatever the principal says the teacher/staff member did, then specifications are drawn up and the arbitrator is assigned by Claude Hersh (NYSUT Attorney) and/or Theresa Europe (NYC DOE).

When a child is the target of the OORS, the same process is followed, if the parent decides to go forward with a suspension hearing. The charge against the child/student may or may not be true/valid, but in every case if the parent requests a hearing, "witnesses" are found and 'convinced' to appear to testify against the student. The hearing office always tries to convince the parent to declare "No Contest", which means that the child will go back to school but that his/her record is forever changed by the permanent substantiation of the misconduct, list in the student's SOHO report.

As I have written on this blog and on my website several times, I have been the advocate for parents at suspension hearings since approximately 2003. The basis of my information about SOHO is that one day the Bronx suspension office made an error, and gave me the folder of the principal before the hearing began. The parent and I read the child's SOHO report attached to the folder's front cover. Most of the anacdotals and incidents reported in the SOHO never happened. The parent kept the SOHO for a future Impartial Hearing, which I also did for her and that she won.

Stunningly, in all the years that I assisted parents at suspension hearings in Manhattan (West 125th Street, third floor) and the Bronx (501 Cortlandt Ave.) I never, ever, saw a white face other than mine or that of an attorney from some volunteer legal organization. In my opinion, there is only one reason for this: the Superintendent Suspension process in NYC is designed to remove children of color of all ages from their schools. Most have Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) which have been mishandled, wrongly neglected, or not complied with.

Betsy Combier

Dozens of 4- and 5-year-olds suspended from New York City schools last year

Nine city elementary schools doled out at least 10 suspensions to 4- and 5-year-olds last school year, data released Friday shows.

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Dennis Walcott, NYC DOE Chief Executive Officer
They're just out of preschool, but that doesn’t stop some city schools from bringing down the hammer.

Nine city elementary schools doled out at least 10 suspensions to 4- and 5-year-olds last school year, data released Friday shows.

Among them was Public School 189 in Manhattan, which handed out a stunning 19 suspensions to 4-year-olds.

“That is so unfair for those kids,” said Josephine Aspha, mother of PS 189 second-grader, noting she wished the school had a proper way of intervening to correct kids’ behavior.

“I witnessed teachers and staff yelling at other kids [on a recent day]. I understand kids can be kids, but it was kind of chaotic.”

Discipline problems at the school last year included a possible incident involving kindergartners exposing themselves to classmates, Aspha said.

“It’s hard to fathom any reason why nineteen 4-year-olds would be suspended from school by a competent educational system,” New York Civil Liberties Union executive director Donna Lieberman said, noting the city’s suspension policies hit minority and special education students hardest.

“These are statistics that have failure written all over them.”

Citywide, suspensions in all the grades were down slightly last year over the previous year, dropping from 73,441 to 69,643.

The stats showed that minorities and kids with special needs were more often the targets of discipline.

Black kids served 53% of the suspensions while they represent just 28% of the city’s students.

In all, 69% of suspensions went to boys, though they make up 51% of the student populations.

In addition, students with disabilities make up just 12% of the student population but serve 32% of the suspensions.

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said schools have reduced suspensions last year by addressing “incidents before they escalate” but added the city is still looking at the disparities among different racial and ethnic groups.

“This is a national problem, and in our schools, we have implemented a pilot as part of the Young Men’s Initiative to reinforce positive behavior through coaching and problem solving,” he said.

“We have more work to do but we are headed in the right direction.”

With Ben Chapman

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