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Citywide, suspensions down by a third over same time last year

In a year when city officials softened discipline rules, city schools issued a third fewer suspensions in the first four months of the school year than they did during the same period in 2012, according to data that the Department of Education released today.

Between July and November, city schools issued 16,068 suspensions, down by 36.4 percent from the same period in 2012, when the schools issued more than 25,000 suspensions, according to the data. Short-term suspensions for relatively minor incidents, known as principal’s suspensions, fell most sharply, but the more severe superintendent’s suspensions were also issued far less often than in 2012.

The decline is far sharper than the one that city schools reported last year, the first time that year to year totals were published because of the Student Safety Act, a law the City Council passed in 2011 to require transparency about discipline in city schools. From 2011 to 2012, the number of suspensions issued by city schools fell by 5 percent.

The latest decline reflects only the last six months of 2012, which included two months of summer vacation and the weeks when the city’s schools were closed or disrupted because of Hurricane Sandy. It’s possible, therefore, that the year’s total suspensions will not fall so sharply.

Still, the new numbers follow concerted efforts by the Department of Education to soften the city’s discipline code in response to criticism. The department made some offenses ineligible for suspensions and did away with the superintendent’s suspension entirely for students in third grade and below.

“Because they are low-level infractions, we believe a more progressive discipline is warranted with strong counseling and youth development support,” a department spokeswoman, Marge Feinberg, told GothamSchools in August. “We want to be able to address improper behavior before it reaches a higher level.”

Last year, nearly two-thirds of all suspensions were issued between January and June, which comprises about 60 percent of the regular school year. If the trend holds, city schools are likely to issue nearly 30,000 additional suspensions between January 1 and the end of June, and there would still be about 40 percent more suspensions this year than in the 2002-2003 school year.

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