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Changes to school discipline policies delayed again

Senior Judith Nkwor is a peer mediator at Validus Prep, a school that has implemented new discipline strategies that aim to minimize suspensions.
Senior Judith Nkwor is a peer mediator at Validus Prep, a school that has implemented new discipline strategies that aim to minimize suspensions.
Jackie Schechter

Unlike in years past, the Department of Education will not make any updates to the discipline code as the school year begins this week.

A spokeswoman for the education department said Wednesday that the additional delay, which was first reported by the Daily News, was because officials were working with the Police Department and the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice on a comprehensive plan. Chancellor Carmen Fariña and Mayor Bill de Blasio have both spoken of their desire to see changes to school discipline policies that reduce suspensions.

Chalkbeat first reported a delay in updating the discipline code in June, though advocates believed then that changes would still be made before September. The spokeswoman said that changes may happen during the school year.

School discipline has been under scrutiny for years, with advocates repeatedly sounding the alarm about high suspension rates among black and Hispanic students and students with disabilities. A coalition of advocates led by retired Chief Judge of New York Judith Kaye made additional recommendations in 2013, and the discipline code—which outlines the city’s school discipline policies and students’ rights—has already changed over the last few years to emphasize alternatives to suspension.

“The language has shifted. Now there’s more language on alternative interventions, like involving guidance counselors,” said Shoshi Chowdhury from the Dignity in Schools Campaign in New York. That organization has worked with the city over the last two years to eliminate the use of suspensions for some minor infractions like chewing gum or cutting class, and has met with the de Blasio administration to discuss additional changes. (Fariña’s schedule indicates that she met with Kaye and officials from City Hall in March.)

A spokeswoman noted Wednesday that the city has recently increased its focus on counseling services, adding an Office of Guidance and School Counseling in the spring and 250 new school counselors over the summer. Suspensions are also down by 27 percent since 2011, and arrests have dropped 32 percent between 2012-13 and 2013-14, according to city statistics.

Nick Sheehan, who works on the School Justice Project at from Advocates for Children, said advocates are still anticipating big-picture changes.

“Our understanding, from what they’ve said publicly, is that they’re looking to make a bigger announcement and hopefully including a leadership team to look at school discipline and safety writ large,” he said, referencing the major recommendation of the 2013 report. Still, he said, “We’re disappointed they haven’t moved a little quicker on this.”

Sarah Darville contributed reporting.

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