The number of suspensions that principals and superintendents handed out to students is down in the second year since the Department of Education was required to report the data publicly, but it’s still much higher than it was a decade ago.
City schools gave out 69,643 suspensions in the 2011-2012 school year, down from 73,441 in 2010-2011. As was the case last year, the vast majority of suspensions were principal suspensions, meaning students were not allowed to attend school for between one and five days. The number of principal suspensions declined slightly, from 58,386 to 56,385. The decline in the stricter superintendent suspensions was even more significant—those dropped from 15,055 in 2011 to 13,258 in 2012.
The data shows that a decline in suspensions preceded the department’s move to soften the discipline code by making fewer offenses grounds for suspension. Officials attributed the declines to efforts to reduce the penalties for minor behavioral problems and introduce more student-teacher conferences as alternatives to suspension.
“Many schools now are using conflict resolution and peer mediation, which has helped to address issues in a timely fashion,” said department spokeswoman Marge Feinberg. “We started implementing more and more training for these programs prior to 2012.”
This year’s numbers are better for some schools, but many are still high. Lehman High School handed out just over 650 suspensions, placing it second to Susan E. Wagner High School, which had about 700. And P.S. 189 handed out 19 suspensions to its youngest students—four year olds in Kindergarten. Richmond Hill High School topped the list of schools that gave out strict, longterm suspensions known as superintendent suspensions, with 89 suspensions. And like last year, the vast majority of students who were suspended were black or Latino.
For the first time this year, officials included information on the numbers of English Language Learners who received suspensions at each school. The school to give out the most suspensions to ELLs—about 160—was I.S. 061 Leonardo Da Vinci, a large middle school where 26 percent of its 2300 students are ELLs.
The student suspension data were released through the Student Safety Act, a law the City Council passed in 2010 to require transparency about discipline in city schools. The first set of data, released a year ago, revealed that many elementary schools were suspending children as young as five or six, while many high schools gave out hundreds of suspensions. The department came under fire over those high figures, and officials responded by promising to reduce penalties for minor behavioral problems and introduce more student-teacher conferences as alternatives to suspension. They followed up by overhauling the student discipline code in August.
Udi Ofer, advocacy director for the New York Civil Liberties Union, said that the lower numbers were promising but still not low enough.
“The decline is clearly a step in the right direction, but the rate of suspensions is still more than double what it was at the beginning of the Bloomberg administration,” he said. He noted that NYCLU’s “Education Interrupted” report, released in 2011, found that there were 31,879 suspensions in the 2002-2003 school year, the first full school year after Bloomberg took office.
Ofer also said he remained concerned with the way the department released the data. The Student Safety Act does not required the city to release total numbers of suspensions for each student demographic category, and it has released those aggregate number selectively. For instance, it released aggregate student suspension data by race and by special education, but it declined to do so by age, gender or for English language learners. Though not required under the law, he said those numbers would be valuable for educators and advocates looking to get a complete picture of student suspensions.
“We commend the DOE for reporting suspension data for the first time in New York City history,” Ofer said. “However, the data is insufficient because we still don’t know the total number of students who were suspended and also English language learners. The DOE should release that immediately.”
In addition to the suspension data, officials released figures on the number of crimes committed in schools over the school year. Those numbers show that crime had a very slight uptick this year over last year—a departure from the slow, downward trend they saw between 2009 and 2011. This year there were 4,107 total crimes committed in schools, and 812 of them were for the seven major crimes. Last year 3,890 crimes were committed, and 801 were major crimes.