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Spotlight on School Safety

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By New York City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn and Council Education Chair Robert Jackson

Last week, the New York Times published an article that examined the rise in both the number of police officers and criminal charges for non-violent student behavior in America's schools. This is both a national and a local problem. In New York City, we've taken real steps to address this issue and this afternoon, we'll hold a public hearing to help ensure our schools are safe havens where students can focus their energy on learning.

In New York City schools, we know that, both in terms of arrests and suspensions, black male students are subject to a disproportionate amount of discipline. Special needs students also receive a particularly high number of suspensions compared to their representation in the general school population. We are extremely concerned by the volume of disciplinary actions and the disproportionate impact on children of color. A student who is subjected to multiple suspensions or arrests is less likely to graduate than his or her peers and could be denied future employment opportunities due to a criminal record.

The New York City Council has been able to achieve successful results through a two pronged approach to increasing safety. First, we passed a law that provides an unprecedented amount of school discipline data. Second, we worked with the Department of Education to change school discipline regulations. As a result, the DOE reported a 36 percent reduction in suspensions citywide this year.

The Council's Student Safety Act (Local Law 6 of 2011) helps keep our children and our school employees safe by shining a light on the impact of school safety practices. Our law requires the DOE to submit data that shows the total number of students in each school that have been subjected to a superintendent or principal's suspension. These reports must include a student's race/ethnicity, gender, and whether the student is receiving special education services or is an English Language Learner.

The Student Safety Act also mandates that the NYPD produce quarterly reports to the Council. These reports detail the number of individuals arrested and/or issued a summons by school safety agents or police officers assigned to the school safety division of the New York City police department.

When others would have complained or pointed fingers we got results. Last year, we worked closely with advocates throughout the city and with the DOE to get them to make changes to the City's discipline code. As a result of our work, students in grades K-3 can no longer be sentenced to a Superintendent's suspension, an out of school suspension lasting 6-10 days.

Thanks to our advocacy and that of parents, students and other community members, the DOE added a new section to the Discipline Code outlining a progressive ladder of support and disciplinary consequences. Now, there's a focus on preventative steps all schools can take to support students, including guidance services and intervention behavioral supports to encourage pro-social student behavior and positive connections to the school community.

But there is still more to be done.

We recognize the devastating impact that arrests and suspensions can have on young people, that's why today, the City Council is holding a hearing that will focus on alternatives designed to keep schools safe while at the same time reducing arrests or suspensions in schools. Some of these models have already been implemented in City schools and our hearing will focus on these and others as we seek a more constructive and fair approach to school discipline. If you can't make it to the Council Chambers to attend the hearing in person at 1pm, you can view it live on the web at www.council.nyc.gov.