Brooklyn Boro

Brooklyn parents grapple with school disciplinary changes

July 1, 2019 Paul Stremple
Residents can vote to fund local projects starting March 30 through participatory budgeting in New York City. One project in Councilmember Stephen Levin’s District would supply AV equipment for P.S. 307 in Vinegar Hill. Eagle photo by Mary Frost.

As the city anticipates a rollout of changes in the school disciplinary code, Department of Education officials are hosting a series of feedback sessions across the five boroughs to address parents’ concerns. Parents who showed up to the Brooklyn session on Saturday morning, however, were left largely without answers to their questions — especially because the 50-plus page document outlining the changes had been released just that morning.

The changes are part of an effort to curb the duration of suspensions in public schools while promoting a more holistic approach to both education and discipline. Along with new guidelines, teachers will receive training in “social-emotional learning” in an effort to “support the whole child,” said LaShawn Robinson, deputy chancellor of School Climate and Wellness.

Robinson led the feedback-and-discussion session with parents, who were interested in the changes but hadn’t yet had a chance to engage with the dozens of pages of line-edits that had been released earlier that morning. The revised language is available on the DOE website, along with a portal for parents to give feedback.

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Across the board, language has been softened — “consequences” are now “responses,” and so on — as the DOE hopes to change the disciplinary mindset to a proactive one.

According to the DOE, 36,668 suspensions were handed down last year, resulting in more than 274,000 lost days of instruction. The new changes to the discipline code will cut down on suspensions longer than 20 days, except in the case of violent incidents or those where long suspensions are required by law — possession of a firearm, for example.

Average suspensions hover around 13 days, DOE representatives said. But that’s still nearly three full weeks of school where students are out of their classroom, spending time at suspension centers.

When the small group discussions began, there were plenty of concerns. Some parents were afraid that if the new program wasn’t properly supported at an administrative level, the actual implementation would falter. The training process may take significant time and money to execute, and parents expressed doubts that teachers who were fundamentally unable to control a classroom would be able to adapt to the new system.

The morning’s presentation briefly highlighted a new memorandum of understanding with the NYPD in regards to school safety, but parents inquiring about what roles police would play in the school safety and discipline process were left without answers.

While the city has announced 85 dedicated social workers will be hired for schools, attendees felt the number was just a drop in the bucket compared to what was needed. Kings County alone has more than 400 public schools.

Still, parents were cautiously optimistic as they learned more about the DOE’s plan. And some were just happy that the topic had been raised at all.

“This is something that hasn’t been looked at for years — since the Giuliani administration,” said NeQuan McLean, a parent of three public school students.

McLean, president of the Community Education Council for District 16, attended to gain some clarification on what the changes to suspensions would mean. He said he’s optimistic and is glad the DOE is embracing the long-term process of change to a new type of engagement with students.

The changes to the Discipline Code are part of the city’s recently announced expansion of the Social-Emotional Learning and Restorative Justice program.

The DOE is planning to conduct feedback sessions about the suspension policy in each of the remaining four boroughs in July, but encouraged parents from across the city to attend whatever meetings they could.

The rest of the meetings will take place over the next three weeks:

  • Queens: Monday, July 1, 6-8 p.m. at P.S./M.S. 138, 251-11 Weller Avenue
  • Manhattan: Tuesday, July 2, 6-8 p.m. at Frederick Douglass Academy, 2581 7th Avenue
  • Staten Island: Tuesday, July 16, 6-8 p.m. at I.S. 27/Anning S. Prall, 11 Clove Lake Place
  • Bronx: Wednesday, July 17, 6-8 p.m. at Taft Campus, 240 E 172nd Street

Paul Stremple is a freelance photographer and journalist based in Brooklyn. You can follow his work on Instagram and Twitter.

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