City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said Wednesday that she will push the city to further reduce student suspensions, amplifying months of calls for school discipline policy changes from City Council members and advocates.
In a speech laying out the City Council’s agenda for the next year, Mark-Viverito said the council will encourage the use of intervention services before students are suspended and would allocate funds for peer mediation and justice panels — two components of the restorative justice programs that some schools use as an alternative to suspension.
“Removing a child from a classroom or a school should be a last resort, not a first option,” Mark-Viverito said.
Chancellor Carmen Fariña, who has also said she wants to reduce suspensions and is interested in expanding restorative justice programs, clapped when Mark-Viverito mentioned the changes. Fariña hasn’t yet changed the city’s discipline code, which sets guidelines for suspensions, though she has said those changes are coming. (A spokeswoman for the Department of Education said last fall that officials were working with the police department and the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice on a comprehensive plan.)
The speaker also said the Council would amend the Student Safety Act, which requires the Department of Education to publish aggregate data on suspensions and breakdowns of suspensions by race and gender.
That data, which has showed disproportionate numbers of suspensions among black and Hispanic students since twice-yearly reporting began in 2011, has been credited with pushing the city to reduce suspensions. The discipline code has been revised over the last few years to emphasize alternatives to suspensions and eliminate them all together for smaller infractions.
In her speech, Mark-Viverito didn’t explain what changes to the Safety Act she was looking for. But Shoshi Chowdhury of the Dignity in Schools campaign, which works for school discipline reforms, said advocates want to add an additional layer of specificity to the city’s reports.
Their proposal would require the city to include the total number of students suspended and for a school’s data to only be redacted from the report if it included fewer than five suspensions. Currently, a school’s data is redacted if includes fewer than 10, which Chowdhury says makes the reports less reliable.
“We’re all hoping to hear something soon,” Chowdhury said of the broader package of changes.
Other education updates from the speaker’s speech:
- Free software: All students, families, and teachers at city public schools will be able to download Microsoft Office software at home for free, thanks to a new partnership with Microsoft. Mark-Viverito called it a “half-billion-dollar benefit” that would include training for teachers.
- New technology: Ten elementary and middle schools serving “low-income New Yorkers” will get new technology, thanks in part to Teachers College.
- Science partnerships: The City Council and NASA will partner to offer new science programs in schools. The Speaker said those could include “real-time conversations with astronauts working on the space station,” as well as internships and fellowships for students with the Goddard Institute for Space Studies back on earth.
- More CTE: The Council will also push the city to add new career and technical education programs in high schools, “including struggling schools,” with internship opportunities and other links to businesses.
- More funding: The Speaker also repeated Mayor Bill de Blasio’s (and Fariña’s) calls for the state to boost its education spending, as it was required to by the settlement of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit. “We intend to fight for every penny in Albany,” Mark-Viverito said.