arrested development

City dragging its feet on school discipline overhaul, NYCLU says

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder
Ben Roter, 14, at a New York Civil Liberties Union protest about the use of police force in city schools in October 2014.

The de Blasio administration isn’t moving fast enough to make long-promised reforms to the way student discipline is handled in schools, advocates say.

Children as young as five are still being handcuffed in schools too often, they say, and safety agents—not teachers and principals—are handling most disciplinary matters. And while city officials say changes are on the way, months of silence from the de Blasio administration led the New York Civil Liberties Union and other advocacy groups to take their frustrations public on Wednesday.

“The de Blasio administration must stop dragging its feet and make the safety of our children in school its top priority,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU, which organized a press conference outside of the city’s monthly Panel for Educational Policy meeting.

Lieberman was joined by a group of New York City public school students, two of whom said that they often felt intimidated by the school safety agents who work in schools under an agreement with the New York Police Department. Sixteen-year-old Krutika Khatri said she regularly feels bullied while waiting to pick up her sister.

“They’re always telling me to get off of school property while I wait for her,” Khatri said. “Some days, they tell me that they will escort me off of school property if I don’t move.”

Chancellor Carmen Fariña spoke with reporters before a Panel for Education Policy meeting at Murry Bergtraum High School Wednesday night.
PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder
Chancellor Carmen Fariña spoke with reporters before a Panel for Education Policy meeting at Murry Bergtraum High School Wednesday night.

The city’s school discipline policies have been under scrutiny for years, given the disproportionate suspension rates of black and Hispanic students and students with disabilities. (Black and Hispanic students account for 90 percent of suspensions but just 70 percent of city students; students with special needs account for about one-third of suspensions.)

A coalition of advocates led by retired Chief Judge of New York Judith Kaye made recommendations for changes 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.

De Blasio has promised further changes, though he has said the NYPD should continue to have authority over school safety. An official said in May that the city would establish restorative justice programs in as many as 20 schools, but advocates say they have heard little about the plans since — and the city delayed making any changes to the disciplinary code as the school year began in September.

On Wednesday, Chancellor Carmen Fariña said a committee of advocates, school principals, and other city commissioners have been meeting to discuss the changes, but they are waiting on approval from “many constituencies,” including the NYPD.

“We are going to be coming out with a statement relatively soon,” Fariña said. “We’re very confident that many of these issues will be resolved.”

The PEP did make a change to the department’s disciplinary code to clarify when employees accused of using corporal punishment can request information about their alleged offenses. More significant potential changes, Lieberman said, would be ending the use of handcuffs in school and giving principals more control over discipline.

“That’s what they should be talking about,” Lieberman said.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.