NEW YORK – New York City’s United Federation of Teachers is calling out the mayor it helped to elect over a recent ban on student suspensions the union believes will “backfire” in his face.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, a self-styled “progressive” elected with significant help from the UFT, banned suspensions at all city schools for students in kindergarten through second grade this school year, a move that follows a national trend aimed at reducing the disproportionately high suspension rate for black students.
De Blasio, and other high-profile figures like Hillary Clinton and President Obama, have pushed for race based education reforms, such as restorative justice student discipline, that keep disruptive students in the classroom, rather than sending them home when they misbehave.
The result in many districts – including St. Paul, Minnesota, Oakland and Los Angeles, California, among numerous others – has been chaos in the classroom sparked by students who understand there are no real consequences for their actions. Teachers have reported an increase in assaults, drugs, weapons and litany of other offenses as a result of restorative justice practices, which are centered on the white privilege perspective on society.
Parents have also complained about the increase in violence in schools with a restorative justice approach.
“Attempting to reduce disciplinary practices that keep kids out of school has become part of the national agenda, but implementation has proven that doing so is a lot harder than simply banning (suspensions),” Education World reports.
“UFT leaders are concerned that banning suspensions without providing alternative, effective methods of discipline puts both other students and teachers at risk.”
The UFT reiterated its opposition to the suspension ban in a statement sent out today.
“It is easy to ban suspensions,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew wrote to NYC Chancellor Carmen Farina in late July, according to the statement. “It is much harder to do the real work so suspensions are no longer necessary.”
Mulgrew pointed out the obvious problem with a ban: disruptive students will be kept in the classroom to disrupt the education of their classmates.
“In a perfect world, no child under the age of 8 would ever be suspended,” he said. “But children who are in crisis and who are disrupting classrooms are not going to be helped by this plan to ban suspension in grades K-2, and neither will the thousands of other children who will lose instruction as a result of those disruptions.”
Mulgrew argued that city officials should work on enforcing the policies already in place before adding new ones.
“The Department of Education has failed to provide the needed training, support, funds and leadership,” he wrote to Farina. “We strongly believe that if the DOE properly managed existing programs, the number of suspensions for students under the age of 8 would be greatly diminished.”
According to the UFT release:
In August, the DOE released data showing that less than one-quarter of 1 percent of all students in kindergarten through grade 2 were suspended last year. Of those, nearly a third of the 801 suspensions handed out were for incidents of violence or serious physical disruption. Forty-seven percent of the suspensions were triggered by “altercation and/or physically aggressive behavior.” Among students who were suspended last year, 26 percent were suspended more than once. Just under one-third of the 839 district schools that teach students in those grades issued suspensions last year.
De Blasio and his wife, Chirlane McCray, defended the suspension ban during a school visit to Brooklyn for the start of school Thursday.
“There’s a mental health challenge, a lot of times when we talk about youth. We want to deal with it,” de Blasio said, according to the New York Daily News. “We don’t think that in those early grades – kindergarten, first grade, second grade – that suspension is a productive way to deal with it.”
McCray told those in attendance that “there’s no bad children, and we shouldn’t be punishing them when they exhibit signs, when they’re being disruptive in the classroom.”
“When children behave that way, it’s usually a cry for help, a cry for attention,” she said. “There is always a reason for why a child is acting out, and the answer is not to punish them, suspend them, make their lives worse, more difficult than they already are.”
Mulgrew countered that banning suspensions will make teachers jobs and student learning more difficult than it already is.
“I have a lot of my members who have reached out to me and said, ‘I’m responsible for 25 children in my classroom, I want to be assured that if a child is having a bad day that that doesn’t interfere with the other 24 children’s education,” he said, according to the Daily News.
“We hope to be proven wrong,” Mulgrew said. “But at this point … we don’t feel confident.”