School superintendents across New York have told the Board of Regents that a ban on student suspensions is a bad idea. While welcoming the idea of finding alternatives, they insisted that certain situations warrant the removal of a student from school. This debate has gained traction recently in the state, with the proposed legislation calling for a ban on suspensions for the subjective offense of “insubordination” and a reduction of maximum suspensions from one year to 20 days. Superintendents argued that some suspensions are necessary and that alternatives such as long-term suspension can be effective in certain circumstances.
A Rutgers University professor who spoke to the board on Monday detailed his research on school suspensions. He found that poorer students and minority students were disproportionately disciplined. This problem has prompted the state’s legislature to consider the ban on suspensions. In response, superintendents offered a defense of some suspensions, saying that they must be fair but cannot be eliminated. They described using long-term suspensions as a negotiating method to encourage families to sign a “contract” in exchange for a shorter suspension. The contracts sometimes require families to get their children mental health care.
Despite differences of opinion, superintendents offered various solutions to the issue of suspension. They described changing in-school suspension rooms to voluntary spaces where students could receive counseling and help from trained professionals. They also outlined efforts to teach social-emotional skills and train teachers in de-escalation and community-building. Officials in the state Education Department will present “recommendations” to the Board of Regents in the future, and it remains to be seen whether a ban on suspensions will be put in place. Nonetheless, both parties agree on the importance of maintaining an evenhanded approach to discipline while ensuring that students receive the support they need to succeed in school.
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