School Climate & Safety

Report Spotlights Alternative Discipline in 6 N.Y.C. High Schools

By Catherine Gewertz — July 08, 2009 2 min read
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Many high schools try to combat student behavior problems with police officers and metal detectors. But a new report offers alternatives that capitalize on strong relationships and student support, and suggests that they might work better.

The study, released today by the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, profiles six New York City high schools that serve at-risk populations without using metal detectors or zero-tolerance policies. Compared with 89 high schools that have metal detectors, the six profiled schools have higher graduation rates, and far fewer suspensions and police incidents.

One of the ways the six schools manage student safety and behavior successfully is by building school environments in which leaders and teachers know students well and are involved in working with them on discipline issues, the report said. (On the chance you will say that this is only possible in small schools, think again: One of the profiled schools has 4,100 students. Another has more than 1,000.)

In these schools, staff members have a collegial and trusting relationship with the New York City Police personnel that patrol them, the report said. School staff members handle most behavior and safety issues, with police used only in the most serious situations. They also employ some form of the “restorative justice” model of discipline, in which a committee or council that includes students is convened to hear all sides of a dispute, take its circumstances into account, and come up with a mutually satisfactory solution.

The Civil Liberties Union recommends that the city Department of Education discourage metal detectors, assign fewer police officers to schools, and mandate training for all school staff in conflict resolution. Providing better supports for students, making sure they have a voice in discipline issues, and ensuring clearer authority for principals to manage police personnel at their schools are important as well, the organization recommends.

In response to EdWeek’s request for comment, the city education department said in an email that it had not yet had much time to review the report. But it disputed the study’s claim of higher graduation rates in the schools without metal detectors as “just untrue.” The department’s statement went on: “We wholeheartedly embrace discipline as an educational matter, but we will continue to use all tools available to us.”

An earlier report by the New York Civil Liberties Union on the use of police in schools is here.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the High School Connections blog.