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Disciplinary code revisions could reduce student suspensions

The Department of Education has revised portions of its disciplinary code to make consequences for poor behavior less strict for the youngest students.

The revisions were made after a heated public hearing and several months of lobbying from City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and Councilman Robert Jackson, the chair of the council’s education committee. They include the elimination of a type of suspension known as the “superintendent’s suspension,” which requires students to miss six to ten days of school, for students in Kindergarten through third grade who have committed low to mid-level disciplinary infractions.

The second change heralded by the council members was the addition of a strategy for teachers to use to deal with early behavioral problems that calls for a conference with the student, his or her parents, and a social worker. During the conference, the adults would help the student develop an “individual behavior contract” where they will lay out goals for improved behavior and tasks the student should meet to reach those goals.

Jackson said in a statement that he and Quinn pushed for the changes because young elementary school students who miss school are at risk of struggling academically in later years.

“Providing guidance based interventions and eliminating overly harsh punishments for children in the critical grades of K-3, will foster positive behavior and encourage the developmental growth of our students,” he said.

At a hearing in June, officials said they would reduce the penalties for minor behavioral problems and introduce more student-teacher conferences as alternatives to suspension. In the 2010-2011 school year, the department gave out more than 73,400 suspensions to students—a figure that was revealed through the Student Safety Act, a law the City Council passed last year to require transparency about discipline in city schools.

“New York City’s schools have relied too heavily on suspension as away to address misbehavior,” Quinn said in a statement.

Department spokeswoman Marge Feinberg said that the changes were made to address the concerns of “stakeholders,” per a state requirement, and to provide alternatives to suspensions for “low-level” problems.

“Because they are low level infractions, we believe a more progressive discipline is warranted with strong counseling and youth development support,” she said in an email. “We want to be able to address improper behavior before it reaches a higher level, and to do that we are focused on providing strong student support services coupled with parent involvement.”