In more than 40 New York City public schools, long-term suspensions of students for disciplinary infractions are the norm, not the exception.
Since taking office in January, Mayor Bill de Blasio and his new schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, have said that reducing the number of suspensions is near the top of their education agenda.
A New York World review of city data revealed that during the 2012-13 school year, at least 44 schools imposed long-term suspensions in at least 60 percent of all suspension cases. Citywide, about 20 percent of suspensions extend beyond five school days.
The long-term suspensions can last for weeks or even months. The impact of the discipline can last longer: Research has shown that suspended students fall behind in their studies and are more likely to drop out.
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In 2011, the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism launched The New York World, an online publication focused on accountability journalism. Under the supervision of Editor Benjamin Lesser and Deputy Editor Mike Sullivan, the site features stories that analyze local, state and federal data on issues ranging from education and infrastructure to how dirty your local supermarket is.
“New York centric stories that aren’t getting a lot of attention on the bigger press outfits are the kind of things that we go after,” said Lesser. “We want to uncover new information that has not been out there before.”
The publication recently shifted its emphasis to data-driven reporting. One of the first The New York World data-driven projects looks at long-term suspensions in the New York City school system.
Long term suspensions are also called superintendent suspensions and can last from six days to an entire school year. In New York City, twenty percent of suspensions were greater than five days during the 2012-2013 academic period. Reporter Emmanuel Felton looked at 44 schools where sixty percent of the school’s suspensions imposed on students for various types of infractions were greater than five days.
“There are about twelve disciplinary infractions that have to receive these longer suspensions,” said Felton. “I heard it could be throwing a pencil at some students in some cases, whereas in other cases it could be an actual dangerous physical fight.”
According to Felton’s findings, long-term suspensions occur throughout all five boroughs, especially among minorities and at schools with economically struggling families. “They were poor. More students there qualify for reduced lunch,” he said.
Many long-term suspension policies are not citywide policies, but rather set in school buildings. It is still unclear why New York City schools use long term suspensions so frequently, but research shows that suspensions are linked to future educational difficulties. “We have about three decades of research now that links the time the students lose to suspensions to a greater likelihood of falling behind and then actually dropping out of school,” said Felton.
As public advocate, Mayor de Blasio spoke on his concern about students missing too many school days for small incidents, but has not said much about long-term suspensions since becoming mayor.
There are other alternatives for suspensions. In New York City there are about 36 alternate learning centers, but suspended students have mixed feelings about the facilities. “Some kids get there and they found the center to be a lot more hospitable than their home school, but I’ve talked to a few students over the last few years that found them too dangerous or too far away,” said Felton.
Advocacy groups throughout the country have called for other options, and in some states and cities there is a ten-day cap on school suspensions. “They’ve been calling for years for a program called Restorative Justice, where you get the student to sit down and talk out or work things out with the other kid, the faculty member, that they’ve had an issue with,” said Felton. “That’s been mostly what they’ve suggested as an alternative to the 60,000 suspensions that can come out of New York City public schools every year.”