National News

School Suspensions in New York Rose 21 Percent During Last Months of 2017

Posted March 30, 2018 7:56 p.m. EDT

NEW YORK — Despite an aggressive push to decrease the number of children being suspended from school and to encourage less punitive discipline practices, suspensions in New York City public schools shot up 21 percent during the last six months of 2017, the education department said Friday.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Carmen Fariña, the schools chancellor whose last day in office was Friday, had put pressure on schools to use what are called restorative practices, in which people in conflict discuss their issues and try to understand the root of their disagreement. De Blasio emphasized social justice themes in his first campaign for mayor, including what he described as overly harsh discipline practices in schools, and during the first school year of his tenure, suspensions fell 17 percent.

The trend has now swung in the other direction.

In a mandatory report to the City Council, the education department said that in September, the number of suspensions had actually decreased from the same month the year before, with 1,317 students getting suspended Then, in the next month, suspensions jumped to 4,396 and stayed at about that number for the remaining months of the calendar year, which was significantly higher than they had been the previous year. It was not clear what caused the jump.

At the end of September, a student at the Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation in the Bronx stabbed two of his schoolmates, killing one of them. The principal was removed, and the school will be closed at the end of the school year. But Miranda Barbot, an education department spokeswoman, said that there were no changes made to the city’s discipline policies after that episode.

The education department said that in response to the increase in suspensions, it gave additional training to particular schools and districts, in de-escalation techniques, for example, and restorative practices. As a result, it said, the growth rate appears to have slowed. From July of 2017 through March 23 of this year, there was a 5.4 percent increase in suspensions across the city, compared with the same period the year before.

“This remains a top priority, and we are expanding school-based supports and resources while remaining vigilant in addressing the root causes of conflict,” Elizabeth Rose, the department’s deputy chancellor for operations, said in a statement.

During that nine-month period, there was a substantial drop in suspensions in one particular area: The number of kindergarten through second-grade students who were suspended fell to 37 in 2017 from 254 in 2016, a decrease of 85 percent. The city changed the school discipline code last year to make it more difficult to suspend children in those grades unless they repeatedly displayed violent or harmful behavior.