School Climate & Safety

Students with Disabilities Suspended Disproportionately in NYC, report says

By Nirvi Shah — February 04, 2011 2 min read
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During the last 10 years, students with disabilities have served nearly a third of suspensions handed out by New York City public schools, according to a report published late last month by the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Student Safety Coalition.

The report, Education Interrupted: The Growing Use of Suspensions in New York City’s Public Schools, analyzed 449,513 suspensions of New York City students from 1999 to 2009, obtaining some of the data is used with Freedom of Information law requests.

Overall, the report found that the number and length of suspensions grew during the last decade, although student enrollment dropped.

Part of the cause, according the report, New York City school administrators changed the discipline code. The code details types of infractions and how schools can punish kids for each. Over 10 years, the number of behaviors for which a student has to be suspended more than doubled.

The data, analyzed by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University, also showed that students with disabilities are four times more likely to be suspended than students without disabilities.

And as can be said of other school districts across the country, the report found that black students were disproportionately suspended: They compose 33 percent of the student body but served 53 percent of suspensions over the past 10 years. Black students with disabilities made up more than half the students with disabilities who were suspended.

Among students with disabilities, those labeled as having learning disabilities or emotional disabilities represent half of enrollment, but more than 80 percent of suspensions.

The report’s authors want New York City to change its approach to discipline. They’d like the school district to review the types of behavior problems that are punishable by suspension, find alternatives to suspension and invest in more guidance counselors, social workers and school aides who are trained in conflict resolution.

“We encourage the DOE to continue recent steps to emphasize the need for non-punitive responses like peer mediation, guidance counseling, conflict resolution, community service and mentoring,” said NYCLU Public Policy Counsel Johanna Miller, the report’s primary author. “These methods are proven to effectively address disciplinary issues while providing students valuable support and encouragement.”

I got a little help finding this report from Disability Scoop. It was welcome, considering this is my first blog post in this space. As you may have already read, Education Week writer Christina Samuels is moving on to other types of education writing.

I’m looking forward to hearing from all of you as I begin to navigate the special education world, among others.

A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.