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News and Speeches

City Announces School Climate Reforms


Policy Changes Will Promote Safety and Dignity of All Students

Improved Policy to Continue Positive Trend of Declining Crime, Suspensions, Arrests and Summonses in City Schools 

More than $5 Million Dedicated to Initiatives to Create Fairer, Safer, and More Supportive Schools for All Students

NEW YORK – Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña today announced a series of school climate and discipline reforms – developed in partnership with the NYPD and the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice – that will ensure the safety and dignity of New York City’s students, and hasten the decline of crime in our schools. In addition to the coordination and collaboration across City agencies, the work of the City Council, other elected officials, and community stakeholders has been invaluable in this revision of the discipline code and continued movement towards progressive disciplinary approaches.

Today’s announcement builds upon the de Blasio administration’s commitment to creating schools that fairly and safely set all young people up for success. Specifically, this administration is focused on reducing unnecessary suspensions, utilizing proven practices of preventative and supportive training for school staff to avoid punitive measures as often as possible and ensuring students are returning to the classroom prepared to learn. The new code is designed to address over-reliance on suspensions, puts into place measures to increase oversight and accountability, and seeks to eliminate disparities that have adversely affected African-American and special-education students, who have been four times more likely to be suspended than their peers. National research shows that a single suspension in high school lowers a student’s odds of graduating in four years by 46 percent, while students nationwide who are arrested during high school are twice as likely as their peers to drop out.

The school climate and discipline reforms announced today – which expand upon changes in recent years – are informed by strong evidence and deep local experience showing that suspensions and arrests of students can be reduced in a way that both leads to safer schools and protects the dignity and future of students. Implementing these reforms will support the continuation of the positive trend of declining reported crime in schools, which has decreased 24 percent over the last two years while suspensions, arrests, and summonses in schools simultaneously declined – 23 percent, 55 percent, and 66 percent respectively.

“No parent should have to choose between a school that’s safe for their child and a school where every student is treated fairly,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “All our schools can and must be both. That’s why we are investing in the training and best practices needed to ensure that when problems arise, we fix them first and foremost inside our schools – not by sending a child home or calling 911 needlessly, hurting their education in the process. These changes will help make campuses safer, treat students of every background with dignity, and provide kids with the support they need to learn.”

“This is a critical step forward for our schools and our students,” said Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. “Everyone knows that students learn best when they’re in a safe, supportive, and engaging environment, and these reforms will make that atmosphere a reality for students across New York City. Today’s changes will protect students from bullying and violence, and provide relief and a better school experience for students who need to be focused on their learning and not constantly worry about getting suspended for any minor incident.”

“The NYPD is proud of its work with Chancellor Fariña and the mayor to develop a smarter, fairer approach to school discipline,” said Police Commissioner William J. Bratton. “We are committed to the safety and educational opportunity of all young New Yorkers. The reforms and innovative initiatives announced today will bring us closer to that goal, and we look forward to continuing this work over the months to come.”

“We made school discipline a priority in the State of the City because we believed we must update our policies, and we look forward to working with our partners across government to make it happen. As we said in the speech, taking a student out of the classroom should be the last option,” said City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

Specifically, the reforms will improve safety and school climates by:

• Reducing ineffective suspensions and increasing accountability in the suspension process. Under the new code, principals will be required to seek authorization from the Office of Safety and Youth Development (OSYD) before suspending students for insubordination/defying unlawful authority (B21/A22).  OSYD will consider how the student’s behavior disrupts the instructional process, as well as prior behavior incidents and prior interventions before making a decision. Superintendent’s suspensions for minor physical altercations (A24/B24) will be eliminated. Additionally, the Department will vigorously enforce an existing policy that requires principals to seek authorization from OSYD before suspending students in kindergarten through third grade. 

• Creating a formal mechanism to coordinate and evaluate the effectiveness of these reforms and make recommendations for improvement. The Administration has established a School Climate Leadership Team, composed of principals, parents, students and union representatives as well as representatives from the DOE, the NYPD, the Mayor’s Office, MOCJ, the City Council, and community groups. The members of the Leadership Team – which is being chaired by Vincent Schiraldi, Senior Advisor to the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, and DOE Chief of Staff Ursulina Ramirez – will report to the Mayor, Chancellor, NYPD Commissioner, and the public on the progress of the reforms in creating a climate at all New York City public schools that promotes student safety and dignity. Nationally respected researchers will partner with the Leadership Team on this important advisory work. The establishment of the Leadership Team reflects the City’s commitment to honest and thorough evaluation of the reforms, as well as its focus on ensuring these reforms have their intended positive results. The Leadership Team had its first meeting on Thursday, February 12. 

• Decreasing reliance on 911 calls to address behavioral issues ($1.45 million). The DOE will propose a new Chancellor’s Regulation designed to provide guidance to schools on how to safely de-escalate behavioral crises using school staff and resources and reduce inappropriate reliance on 911 calls. Under the regulation, each school will develop a Crisis De-Escalation Plan that provides guidance to educators as to when they should call 911 for a child experiencing an emotional or behavioral event. These plans, developed by schools’ Crisis Intervention Teams, will include strategies for de-escalating behavioral crisis situations and discourage overuse of 911. The DOE will provide de-escalation training in Therapeutic Crisis Intervention for Schools to 1,500 staff members over three years at high-needs schools and improve data collection on Emergency Management Systems calls and transports. 

• DOE initiatives to reduce the need for suspensions and arrests and create fairer, safer, and more supportive schools for all of our students. These include: 

Restorative practices in schools ($1.2 million): Since this past July, the DOE has trained staff from 64 schools new to Restorative Approaches. City Council funding is supporting current work to continue this training, with a total of 100 schools new to Restorative Approaches receiving it by September. 

SAGA Innovations program ($432,000): Four schools have enrolled for the 2014-15 school year in the highly regarded SAGA Innovations Initiative, an algebra-based, intensive mentoring program to engage at-risk students that was shown to reduce violent crime and improve student achievement when utilized in Chicago. This program will be scaled up to include two additional sites covering six schools for the 2015-16 school year.  

Strategies to support court-involved students ($2.36 million): In order to fulfill the Mayor’s commitment to improving educational planning for court-involved youth and educational re-engagement for placed and sentenced youth, the DOE will provide each student in detention with a DOE guidance counselor upon admission. These specialized counselors will provide counseling, transition planning, tracking, and support to students. The DOE will also make all schools in detention and placement facilities members of the DOE iZone. Students will have access to web-based courses, blended learning, and tablets, all of which will promote smooth transitions back to traditional schools. Students will also participate in a new web-based graduation planning system.

o Community Schools: The City’s Community Schools will meet school climate challenges and integrate positive school climate strategies. Given its emphasis on mental health supports and community building, the Community School approach will provide the types of services and programs that help address whole-school climate and culture. 

Parent Engagement:  Increased parent engagement – including 40 minutes of one-on-one engagement time for teachers and families each Tuesday – represents a paradigm shift on the issue of school safety and discipline.  School communities across the City have used this time productively, soliciting ideas from parents, scheduling parent-teacher home visits, and hosting other innovative and interactive activities. Educators and parents will have more regular opportunities to check in and review positive developments for each student, rather than only negative events, concerns, or crises.

Learning Partners: The DOE will create a strand of its signature Learning Partners Program to build the capacity of six to ten schools that face safety and discipline challenges. The Learning Partners Program promotes inter-school collaborative learning by matching a host school with two partner schools to share strong practices.

• Reforms around de-escalation, rebuilding trust, and strengthening cooperation between the NYPD, educators, parents and students. The Leadership Team will play an important, hands-on role in this work. The NYPD will make the following changes: 

Test a Warning Cards Project, replacing certain summonses with warnings: The NYPD will work with the DOE and the Leadership Team to establish a pilot program in five schools in the Bronx – and later increase to 25 schools citywide – that will replace summonses for student misconduct with warning cards.

Improve restraint policies in schools: NYPD will begin tracking the use of restraints in schools and will provide a monthly report on any use to the Mayor’s Office. Further, NYPD will not restrain students under 12 with metal handcuffs in schools, except in situations where other methods of restraint have failed and NYPD officers, the public, or students are threatened by or facing bodily harm, or if doing so during arrest situations would improve public safety. 

 The primary option in school facilities is for the NYPD to utilize verbal commands or the minimal level of physical control, and no restraining device will be utilized when alternatives are sufficient. 

 To help support this policy change, NYPD officers will need the explicit prior approval of a supervisor to use metal restraints on a student under 12, unless exigent circumstances prevent this. NYPD officers will also notify the principal or principal’s designee prior to the handcuffing, and the principal or principal’s designee will notify a parent/family member immediately. 

 Children who are handcuffed will be supervised at all times and handcuffing students to other students or fixed objects will be banned. 

Expand training for SSAs and police officers assigned to the School Safety Division: All SSAs have already received a new three-day course in crisis intervention, and the training academy for SSAs has been extended by two weeks to ensure that they are appropriately trained in fair and non-discriminatory methods of conflict resolution. These trainings are being conducted in partnership with the DOE.

“Our mission is to guide our students to graduate and a new approach to school discipline will improve our students’ chances greatly,” said City Council Education Committee Chairperson Daniel Dromm. “Research shows that one suspension in high school reduces a student’s chance of graduating in four years by 46 percent and an arrest makes a student twice as likely to drop out. These odds are unacceptable. I look forward to working with Chancellor Carmen Fariña to ensure we eliminate unnecessary suspensions and put our focus on preventative and supportive training for staff.”

“It is my hope these reforms will go a long way in easing tensions with young adults,” said Gregory Floyd, President of Teamsters Local 237. “We are going to work closely with all stakeholders involved to reduce levels of violence in our schools.”

“I’m honored to be appointed by the Mayor to co-chair the Leadership Team, along with DOE’s Chief of Staff, Ursulina Ramirez,” said Vincent Schiraldi, Senior Advisor to the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. “This package of school climate reforms sends a powerful message that the Mayor believes we can treat kids with dignity and improve safety in our schools.  I believe that the unprecedented collaboration reflected in the Leadership Team will serve to build on the Mayor’s, DOE’s and NYPD’s strong starting foundation in the coming year.”

“I applaud the Mayor's announcement of an initiative directed to reform of school climate and discipline,” said Judge Judith Kaye. “Our attention is critically needed on the shadow population, the overwhelmingly black and special needs children doomed at adolescence, if not at birth, to a life of escalating involvement in the justice system. We have for years been accumulating the data.  Enough already. We know the problem. I am delighted that the Mayor is stepping forward to find and implement the solutions.”

“All New York City children deserve safe, secure and supportive schools,” said New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “For the de Blasio administration to acknowledge the problems in our schools and to establish a Leadership Team tasked with working collaboratively to develop common sense and humane discipline policies is a significant step in making that vision a reality.”

“We find that often, when a student gets into a lot of trouble at school, multiple City agencies and non-profit organizations become involved in one way or another,” said Advocates for Children Executive Director Kim Sweet. “In convening the Leadership Team, the de Blasio administration is making a commitment to maintaining safety while bringing down suspensions and arrests in schools.  We are happy to be part of this important effort.”

“I am very pleased with today’s school climate reforms,” said Priscilla Chan, principal of the Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies. “At the end of the day, it’s about the students and the learning that goes on in the classrooms, and these changes show that the Chancellor, the Mayor, and the NYPD get it. I’m particularly excited about the Restorative Practice Initiative and other initiatives that will provide our school critical tools for resolving conflicts effectively while helping to raise student achievement.”

“I’m pleased the Department has prioritized restorative justice as part of a focus on increased equity and inclusion. These reforms set a new tone for our New York City schools: a tone of collaboration, mutual responsibility, and care for all students. I’m looking forward to working with my School Leadership Team and school community to implement these changes and to make use of the additional resources provided by restorative and mental-health programs to continue to improve my students’ lives,” said Sarah Scrogin, principal of East Bronx Academy for the Future.

Proposed changes to the Discipline Code can be found online and will be discussed at public hearing scheduled for March 2 at the High School of Fashion Industries in Manhattan. The school climate reforms will be put in place starting in Spring 2015.