School safety

City will no longer suspend students in grades K-2, and releases a slew of new school crime data

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.

Schools will no longer be allowed to suspend students in kindergarten through second grade, one of a series of new safety policies announced Thursday that includes creating a process for removing metal detectors from some school buildings.

The decision to end suspensions for some of the city’s youngest students comes after a city task force issued its second and final report that spells out a series of recommendations aimed at making the school system’s disciplinary practices more fair.

This past school year, 801 suspensions were issued for students in kindergarten through second grade, down from 1,454 the previous year, an education department official said. The new policy will replace those suspensions with “age-appropriate discipline techniques” according to a press release.

Advocates largely praised the new suspension policy, though some thought it didn’t go far enough. “It’s progress – it’s a step in the right direction,” said Kesi Foster, a coordinator at the Urban Youth Collaborative, and a member of the city’s task force. “Transformative change would expand that same understanding and compassion” to high school students, he added, and eliminate suspensions for older students as well.

The new suspension policy drew criticism from United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, who wrote a letter to schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña blasting the decision. “The new plan claims that the DOE will provide schools with additional resources to address the challenges created by banning suspensions,” he wrote. “We are skeptical these new supports will materialize.”

Moving schools away from punitive discipline toward more restorative practices has been a hallmark of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s school reform strategy, but has met mixed reviews. The recommendations issued Thursday come from a city task force, which includes top officials. It was created to move the city away from practices that lead to students getting tangled in the criminal justice system, and which disproportionately affect black and Hispanic students, as well as those with disabilities.

The city also promised to implement a new procedure for removing metal detectors from school buildings, or only use them “part-time,” taking into account factors such as school size and weapon-related student activity near the building, an education department official said. Eighty-eight of the city’s 1,300 school buildings use metal detectors, according to the city, but according to a WNYC analysis, nearly half of all black high school students pass through metal detectors, compared with just 14 percent of their white peers.

“It’s very vague exactly what they’ve been doing or will do,” said Johanna Miller, advocacy director at the New York Civil Liberties Union, and member of the city task force, in reference to the metal detector policy. “We think they’re positive developments, but will be monitoring implementation.”

The city used the report to tout reductions in suspensions and crimes committed within schools — which have been the subject of a wider public relations battle with charter school supporters.

The NYPD also issued new statistics that include data on how often students have been handcuffed, and the number of arrests made by officers on school grounds.

According to a preliminary analysis of the data by the NYCLU, there were 1,555 student arrests last school year, and 436 student arrests this year from January through March.

Of the 436 arrests in the first quarter of 2016, just nine — or 2 percent — were white. And while 70 percent of the city’s students are black or Hispanic, that group represented 92 percent of arrests, according to a Chalkbeat analysis.

“Similar to street policing, racial disparities in school-based arrests are severe,” according to an NYCLU press release.

While the NYPD data show crime in the city’s schools is down roughly 50 percent since 2004, according the NYCLU, the new statistics also reveal almost 673 uses of restraints during the first quarter of 2016. Eighty-three of those incidents involved students who were emotionally disturbed.

Black and Hispanic students were also more likely to be restrained. Of the 673 restraints, 627 — or 93 percent — were used on black or Hispanic students. Two percent involved white students, Chalkbeat found.

In an interview, an NYPD official acknowledged the disproportionate effect policing has on black and Hispanic students, but said the department is open to discussions on how to eliminate it.

In its announcement, the city also promised to allocate $47 million annually “to support school climate initiatives and mental health services,” including adding mental health supports in 50 additional schools over the next three years.

“Today’s reforms ensure that school environments are safe and structured,” de Blasio said in a statement. “In partnership with the NYPD, my administration will continue to monitor school safety data to ensure enduring reductions in disciplinary disparities while improving school safety citywide.”

Annie Ma contributed data analysis

Mixed messages

Is the Board of Regents hostile to charter schools? Depends upon whom you ask.

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Regent Collins and Regent Johnson engage in a discussion after a Board of Regents meeting.

When the Board of Regents took the unprecedented step of rejecting two new charter schools last week, it sent shudders through the charter school sector.

Even before the meeting last Monday, the Regents had been making charters “nervous,” said Andrea Rogers, the New York State Director for the Northeast Charter Schools Network. The rejections only heightened the anxiety.

“I think these denials skyrocketed the issue to the front of people’s minds,” she said.  

And yet, during the same meeting, the board praised and signed off on the opening of five other charter schools, which brings the number of new schools approved this year to more than any year since 2013.

The meeting was emblematic of the mixed signals that this Board of Regents have been sending over the last few months, feeding different interpretations among both those who advocate for charter schools and those who champion traditional schools

The board’s willingness to criticize and question charters have many believing the Regents are, at best, skeptics and, at worst, opposed to the publicly funded, privately run schools that they authorize and oversee.

At the same time, the Regents have not been without praise for charters, and some charters say they have appreciated the support of the body and the state’s support staff.

Chancellor Betty Rosa said the Regents’ decisions are evidence of nuance, not rigid ideology or partisanship.

“I think there’s too many times when people want to simply say ‘you’re for’ or ‘you’re against.’ It’s so much more complicated than that,” Rosa told Chalkbeat in an interview Wednesday. “To me, if it’s a wonderful opportunity for kids — you got me. If it’s not, I’m probably going to be your worst enemy.”

As an authorizer, the Board of Regents has the power to approve new schools and decide which of its 87 schools should remain open. In addition to deciding the fate of individual schools, the board is rethinking how it evaluates all of its schools   and whether they should take a closer look at measures like surveys or chronic absenteeism.

With several new members and a relatively new leader, the Regents’ actions have been under particular scrutiny for signs of partisanship. Some have seized on recent events, such as critical statements made by some Regents as charter schools have come before the board for approval or renewal.

One Regent suggested that charter schools achieve high test scores by pushing out students; another suggested a charter school in Brooklyn is contributing to segregation.

Rosa has fiercely opposed a proposal that would allow some charter schools to certify their own teachers, calling the idea  “insulting.” The board also rejected a batch of Success Academy renewals, arguing that their authorizer attempted to renew the high-performing but controversial charter schools too soon. (The move had little practical effect, since their authorizer, SUNY, can override the board’s decision.)

Rosa said the sum of these decisions does not mean either she or the board is anti-charter. Her opposition to the teacher certification proposal had nothing to do with the source of the proposal — a charter authorizer — but because, she said, she believes the idea is an affront to the teaching profession and will allow unqualified teachers to enter classrooms.

The Success Academy renewals, she said, were returned based on legal requirements — and were not an appraisal of the charter network.

But taken together, observers of different educational ideologies have concluded that the board is more likely to probe problems with charter schools than in the past.

“It is quite a change from a couple years ago, and it does show greater misgivings about charter schools than what we saw under the board as it was previously constructed,” said Bob Lowry, deputy director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents. (Lowry said he appreciates that the board is paying more attention to how charter schools will affect the funding of surrounding school districts.)

The state’s teachers union has picked up on the change and praised the board for providing more oversight of charter schools, while calling on them to do more.

“The Regents, at this point, are providing much overdue scrutiny of the charter sector,” said NYSUT spokesman Carl Korn. “We believe that the Regents and the state education department need to do more, but this is a good step.”

Charter school advocates agree, seeing the Board of Regents’ actions as worrying. Since the board’s philosophy is hard to pin down, schools are starting to wonder if they can switch authorizers, Rogers said.

Yet there are signs that charters’ fear are based on conclusions that are far too sweeping. As the board rejected two schools outside of New York City, they also lauded applications for schools opening in the city a fact that may suggest differences in how the Regents assess schools in different areas of the state.

Regent Christine Cea welcomed a new school in Staten Island, saying she is “totally in favor of it.” Rosa expressed excitement about a new KIPP school in the Bronx, saying the community has “tremendous support” for its opening.

Rosa said Regents are more thoughtful and involved in reviewing schools now. She suggested that there are educational innovations that can be learned from charter schools, but also offered some critiques. At the top of her list, she worries that charter schools are not well-equipped to serve students with the most severe disabilities.

Several schools that are currently authorized by the board expressed their appreciation for the Board of Regents and those in the state education department’s charter school office who provide technical assistance to schools and create charter school recommendations for the board.

“On our quest to better serve scholars with learning differences, we have found no better ally,” said Eric Tucker, who is a co-founder of Brooklyn Laboratory Charter School. “Through technical assistance and oversight, the Regents push public schools like ours to continually improve to better serve the needs of all students, all days.”

Still, said Bob Bellafiore, an education consultant who works with charter schools, several Regents come from district school backgrounds, and so their default attitude is to question charter schools and support the traditional school model.

“They’re much more district school system people,” Bellafiore said.

What's Your Education Story?

Tips for teaching poetry in a women’s prison. ‘Remember, you are not allowed to hug anyone.’

PHOTO: Lwp Kommunikáció, Flickr CC
Inmates at the Indiana Women's Prison.

Adam Henze was one of seven educators who participated in a story slam sponsored by Chalkbeat, Teachers Lounge Indy, WFYI Public Media and the Indianapolis Public Library on Sept. 5. Every teacher shared stories about their challenges and triumphs in Circle City classrooms.

A poet and educator, Henze read a poem about a day in his life as a poetry instructor at the Indiana Women’s Prison. Henze recounts the painful struggle to reconcile his experiences with the crimes for which his students were serving time — some life sentences for murder

It’s a story full of darkness, but it also offers hope that, as Henze said, “we are the sum of the things that we have done, but we’re also the sum of the things that we have yet to do.”

Check out the video below to hear Henze’s story.

You can find more stories from educators, students and parents here.