Gotham Gazette Thu, 29 Oct 2020 08:59:19 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) New York City Schools Need a Trauma-Informed Approach to Student Behavior back school parkside

Students return to schools (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

Black, brown, and indigenous students are suspended from school more than any racial or ethnic groups in the United States. This disproportionality exacerbates educational inequities. By controlling misbehavior, rather than correcting it, excessive school discipline has lifelong negative impacts on well-being, academic, and professional success. 

The long-term consequences of racially-biased discipline in schools will be even more devastating in a school year as unique and challenging as this one, when the most fragile children, with the greatest need, will return to schools that are chronically under-resourced.

Too many children of color already suffer the irreparable harm of racism and its related diseases, such as poverty, chronic illness, housing instability, and excessive punishment. Today they are experiencing heightened anxiety and depression as the coronavirus decimates their communities and they are isolated from their friends and usual support networks. They are understandably fearful as their parents lose their jobs and struggle to keep their home. Too many are grieving the loss of loved ones and caregivers.

As young people return and acclimate to their COVID-19-modified classrooms, their existing trauma and mental health struggles will become apparent. Teachers are accustomed to the usual jitters associated with the “back to school” transition from summer recess; this year we must be prepared for so much more. Grief and anxiety will manifest in a multitude of ways. Some children will act out. Others will withdraw. All this, in the context of new rules and pressures to wear masks, wash hands, keep distance from friends and teachers, and more. How can we enforce these mandates without penalizing students? Will we be punishing, or act supportively and sensitively? What is our track record?

Given that the New York City Department of Education has not provided guidance on disciplinary practices, schools are being left to determine appropriate protocols individually. 

As parents, educators, and neighbors, we must respond with empathy, kindness, and equity above all else. Children need the opportunity to reflect upon their actions and work through the struggles they may be experiencing. If a parent or teacher immediately reacts angrily toward a child without examining context, a child is likely to become even more confused, afraid, or withdrawn. Adults are anxious too, complicating the response. 

Make no mistake: responding to a child’s trauma with punitive action will cause harm. It will re-traumatize the child and compound suffering in an already painful circumstance. 

Children get their cues from adults, especially during times of extreme stress. They look to us for guidance on how to navigate unusual experiences. Our behavior sends particularly important messages at times like these. When a child “misbehaves,” it’s almost never malevolent. Meltdowns, outbursts, or aggressive gestures signal an underdeveloped ability to deal with transition, disappointment, or disagreement. Misbehaviors may also be signs of trauma. That’s why it’s important to respond by asking the child questions about what they are experiencing in the moment, encouraging them to articulate what is underneath their fear, angst, or reclusion.

Teachers across the country are rightly asking for training on how to support and work with traumatized children. Caregivers should likewise feel empowered to lean on external support systems. At JCCA, for example, we offer individualized family therapy and support services for any family on Medicaid, and already serve over 17,000 children in New York. Parents should also look to mental health counselors and social workers embedded in their schools, who are available remotely to help a child and their family work through the avalanche of challenges stemming from COVID-19.

The pandemic poses many challenges to educators, students, and families. At the forefront should be the challenge of how to address and heal the inequities of our school system—not perpetuate them. 

Supportive resources are accessible to parents in well-funded school districts, but scarce in the communities hardest-hit by COVID-19; we must marshal every advocacy and funding opportunity to correct this inequity. In the meantime, all of us can help prevent moments of duress by proactively checking in with kids, asking how they are feeling and affirming the sources of support they can rely on.

As children return to school, we cannot underestimate how the pandemic has turned their world upside down and how it will continue to affect them in the months ahead, especially for students of color. How we respond to their pain in this moment will leave a lasting imprint on their lives, and on the strength of generations to come. 

Ronald E. Richter is CEO of JCCA. On Twitter @RichterJCCACEO.

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New York City Schools Need a Trauma-Informed Approach to Student Behavior Mon, 05 Oct 2020 04:00:00 +0000
'Data for Progress' Poll Shows Support for 'Driver's Licenses for All' cm carlos press

(photo: John McCarten/City Council)

A new statewide poll by the progressive think tank Data for Progress finds plurality support for a proposal to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, and majority support for legislation requiring “good cause” eviction of tenants and for legislation requiring schools to limit the use of student suspensions. The findings are likely to buoy Democrats in the Legislature as well as advocates attempting to pass those pieces of legislation, among other progressive priorities, before the end of the state legislative session in June.

The poll, conducted with 1,189 registered New York voters April 8-10, found that 42.4% of respondents indicated support for the “driver’s licenses for all” measure, compared to 37.6% opposed, with 16.1% not taking a position, and 4% unsure.

The percentage of respondents in support jumped slightly when the question was modified to include certain caveats: when told that driver’s licenses for all would improve road safety and bring in $50 million in annual revenue, the margin jumps to 47.4% support to 31% opposed; and when told that the measure would reduce the risk of deportation for immigrants, the margin increases to 46.9% support to 32.9% opposed.

The support numbers are a slight jump from those of a March Quinnipiac poll, which saw 37% support for the driver’s license measure, but the opposition is much lower than in that poll, which saw 57% opposition.

Among respondents, 40.3% are registered Democrats, 17.9% registered Republicans, 13.8% registered with a different party, and 22.7% not affiliated with any party; 71.1% of respondents self-identified as white, 12.9% as black, and 16% identified as a different race.

The poll was conducted using “online web panels in English,” according to Data for Progress. “Responses were weighted by gender, age, race, party registration, geography and education to targets derived from the most recent voter file available, ensuring that the poll reflects the current New York State electorate, without taking into consideration an individual’s probability of voting in any given election. A subset of responses were matched to the voter file to validate the findings of the poll."

Since the passage earlier this year of the DREAM Act, which allows undocumented students to qualify for state higher education aid programs, immigrants’ rights activists have shifted their focus to the driver’s licenses proposal as their foremost legislative priority.

“These data show what we’re seeing in communities across the state, including the suburbs and rural areas: there is broad support for restoring access to driver’s licenses to all qualified drivers, regardless of immigration status,” said Javier Valdes, co-Executive Director of Make the Road New York, in a statement. “A surging chorus of New Yorkers want legislators to take action to make our roads safer by enabling all drivers to be able to go through the same licensing process—which would also boost the state’s economy and keep families together.”

In January, the New York Immigration Coalition launched a $1 million campaign to promote the driver’s license measure, spending on TV, radio, social media, and billboard ads as well as on lobbying.

A 2017 study by the Fiscal Policy Institute, a liberal think tank, found that the measure would bring in about $26 million in one-time revenues, such as license application fees and license plate fees, and $57 million in annual recurring revenues such as car registration fees and gas taxes. These revenues would come from an estimated 265,000 new drivers who would obtain licenses in the state if the measure were to pass.

Like other proposals, the driver’s license measure is a longstanding policy goal for activists that has been given new life by the shift in Albany to full Democratic control. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie tweeted in March that he would look to advance the measure post-budget, and Governor Andrew Cuomo publicly supports it, but Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins has been noncommittal.

Good Cause Eviction
As for the good cause eviction measure, which would prohibit evictions for failure to pay an “unconscionable” rent increase, the polling margin is overwhelming, at 68.1% support compared to 17.4% opposed, with 11.3% not taking a position and 3.2% unsure.

Sponsored by State Senator Julia Salazar, a Brooklyn Democrat, and Assemblymember Pamela Hunter, a Syracuse Democrat, the legislation would prohibit landlords from evicting market-rate tenants for failure to pay an “unconscionable” rent increase, defined in the legislation as a percentage increase beyond 150% of the annual percentage change in the regional Consumer Price Index.

The measure would be a significant step toward “universal rent control,” which has become a rallying cry of the left and a source of serious concern for real estate interests.

The state’s rent regulations will expire on June 15 if legislators do not renew them beforehand. Housing affordability advocates have identified this session as an opportunity to get various long-sought reforms to the state’s regulations passed by the now-Democratic state government, such as repealing vacancy decontrol and vacancy bonuses, and scrapping or significantly modifying rent hikes associated with “major capital improvements.”

“New Yorkers across this state know that there’s an affordable housing crisis, and part of the way to address it is to ensure that all tenants have basic protections,” said Delsenia Glover, Executive Director of Tenants and Neighbors, in a statement responding to the poll. “This good cause eviction bill is wildly popular because it would address the gaping hole in our rent laws that currently leaves five million renters statewide out in the cold.”

Limiting School Suspensions
Meanwhile, 55.6% of respondents to the poll supported the idea of legislation to limit the use of student suspensions in school compared to 21.9% opposed, with 19% not taking a position and 3.6% unsure. Poll-takers were asked, “In New York State, students of color and students with disabilities are disproportionately suspended and disciplined for minor school infractions. There is currently a bill in the legislature that would ensure that school districts implement codes of conduct limiting the use of suspension as a disciplinary response to minor infractions, and encouraging the use of alternatives to suspension. Do you support or oppose this proposal?”

The Safe and Supportive Schools Act limiting school suspensions, sponsored by Brooklyn Democratic Senator Velmanette Montgomery and Queens Democratic Assemblymember Cathy Nolan, has also seen renewed interest this session, though it’s been a lower profile issue than driver’s licenses or rent reform. The measure would prohibit suspensions of longer than 20 days (currently suspensions can last an entire academic year), would ban suspensions of students in kindergarten through third grade, and would prohibit suspensions for minor offenses such as dress code violations or tardiness.

The bill would also require schools to establish a code of conduct to govern conduct and disciplinary responses tied to offenses, replacing more ad hoc dispersal of punishment. Data has shown that black students and students with disabilities are disproportionately likely to receive harsher punishments for the same infractions. John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s Data Collaborative for Justice released a report in March showing black students are three times more likely than white students to be suspended for the same offenses, while students with disabilities are twice as likely to be suspended as their non-disabled peers.

Similar changes as included the state bill have been advanced in New York City, leading to a sharp drop in the use of suspensions during Mayor Bill de Blasio’s tenure, though suspensions rose for this first time in his mayoralty last year.

by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

'Data for Progress' Poll Shows Support for 'Driver's Licenses for All' Thu, 25 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Students for School Safety: Solutions Not Suspensions, Counselors Not Cops mayordeblasio pay equity

(photo: Rob Bennett/Mayoral Photography Office)

Recently, many news outlets have sensationalized the declining use of suspensions in New York City, framing young people negatively and attempting to discredit the progress that has been made. These stories discount the needs of students most impacted by punitive discipline, who have been very clear about the urgency around redefining what school safety really means.

And while suspensions are down across the city, too many schools still use ineffective tactics, choosing to exclude students rather than seeking to better understand them. Relying on tactics like suspensions, or even metal detectors, handcuffs, surveillance cameras, installing gates on windows, and hiring more school safety and police officers only fosters feelings of turmoil.

As two students currently enrolled in Brooklyn high schools, we understand the circumstances and we understand the impact of suspensions and policing on young people. We must end the school to prison pipeline for the sake of ensuring a better future for the next generation of children.

On March 20, we testified before the New York City Council to draw attention to both the financial and social cost of criminalizing young people in school. Last year the city adopted a budget that was going to spend $373 million on the School Safety Division of the NYPD. The mayor’s new preliminary budget shows a $30 million increase in that funding, now expected to reach $403 million. This would be the most that the city has ever spent on school policing. This isn’t a step in the right direction. This is a crisis.

The city needs to redirect funds toward positive and healing alternatives that work, such as more guidance counselors, clinical social workers, school psychologists, and access to restorative justice that all can boost the morale of students across campuses and increase the academic engagement of students to help them graduate.

The Department of Education recently released its 2019 data report on the number of guidance counselors and social workers in all New York City schools. According to that report, across 913 school sites covering grades 6 through 12, there are 449 schools listed that do not have a single social worker, and 40 school sites that do not have a single guidance counselor. Schools are too ready to push towards more desperate, punishing measures when it would be more positive and transformative in the long run to invest in what helps students feel whole.

Funneling public money towards ensuring students are policed in schools is not safety. Ensuring a future where people respond to problems with criminalization is not the answer.

We’ve both been to Albany to advocate for the Safe and Supportive Schools Bill that would encourage schools across all of New York State to shift away from punitive practices. We are both committed to helping build the schools people need to thrive. Supportive, respectful schools where students are treated with dignity is what will bring us safety.

Gary Edwards is a high school senior and Khushayah Morris is a high school sophomore. Both students are education justice advocates with the Children’s Defense Fund - New York, and members of the Dignity in Schools Campaign of New York.

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Students for School Safety: Solutions Not Suspensions, Counselors Not Cops Mon, 08 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Passing New York’s Next School Discipline Test education charter school rally albany

A charter school rally at the Capitol (photo: The Governor's Office)

UFT President Michael Mulgrew raises important points about the negative impact of suspensions in his recent op-ed, “Charter Schools Can’t Suspend Their Way to Success.

There is no disputing Mr. Mulgrew’s argument that the excessive use of suspensions and other exclusionary disciplinary practices means that students (and especially students of color) miss out on class time and their education permanently suffers. No school – regardless of whether it’s a public charter school or district public school – should ever be able to “suspend its way to success.”

The good news is that New York can do something about it – right now.

In Albany, state leaders are working on a major overhaul of how New York measures school performance and provides urgency, resources, and support to help schools that are not succeeding for any group of students. These changes are possible under a federal education law that President Obama signed, called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

While academic measures like reading and math achievement must – and should – remain the most important aspect of how we measure school performance, there’s also room for a small number of additional measures of school quality and student success that capture other important student outcomes that schools can control and that have a clear link to achievement.

Without a doubt, reducing suspensions meets those criteria.

A recent study by the California Dropout Research Project and The Civil Rights Project at the University of California found that “suspensions themselves directly reduce the graduation rates of suspended students” – resulting in a 6.5 percentage point difference in high school graduation rates.

Our own research at The Education Trust--New York found that across New York State, African-American elementary and middle school students are nearly four times as likely as their white peers to receive at least one out-of-school suspension, and African-American high school students are twice as likely as their white peers to be suspended. The challenge is not limited to New York City, and it’s not unique to charter schools.

We – along with a statewide coalition of civil rights, education, parent, and business organizations committed to advancing equity through ESSA – believe that schools should be held accountable for reducing the overuse of exclusionary discipline measures, including in- and out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, seclusions/restraints, and school-based arrests.

Of course, just including discipline in our accountability system is not sufficient. We also need the resources to support teachers and principals in enacting restorative justice practices and establishing positive school environments. Including discipline in our accountability system can help create the urgency to provide these critical tools so our schools can truly address the problem and improve the learning environment for all students.

Other states are already taking advantage of ESSA to show they are serious about reducing excessive discipline. In Louisiana, for example, the state’s new accountability system would require support and improvement in schools that have high rates of suspensions.

Does New York’s State Education Department agree that efforts to reduce excessive suspensions should have real teeth?

We’ll find out in just a few short weeks, when they present their draft accountability plan to the Board of Regents and the public.

Ian Rosenblum is the executive director of The Education Trust--New York. On Twitter @EdTrustNY.

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Passing New York’s Next School Discipline Test Thu, 27 Apr 2017 04:00:00 +0000
De Blasio School Discipline Policy Shift Causes A Stir de blasio school student discipline

De Blasio at Brooklyn Generation School (photo: Ed Reed, Mayor's Office)

In April 2015, the New York City Department of Education modified its discipline code and added an extra step to the process for suspending students from school. Principals are now required to receive authorization from the DOE before suspending students in grades K through 2 for any behavior or any student of any age for incidents involving insubordination, such as cursing at a teacher or refusing to leave a classroom. The change was made in an effort to move away from overusing suspensions and toward alternative disciplinary measures that address the root causes of disruptive behavior.

In its first year of implementation, the change in suspension policy and the overall culture shift related to school discipline that the de Blasio administration has sought have yielded a dramatic decrease in student suspensions. The shift has been praised widely, but has also been met with resistance as some say schools are under-resourced to work with students who need to be out of the classroom and others say the policy is leading to a deterioration of school climate.

When a school seeks a ‘superintendent’s suspension,’ which can range from six days to one year, an electronic request with a description of the incident is sent to the borough directors of suspension at the DOE, who vote on authorization. An affirmative vote will send the case to the hearing office and begin the suspension process. With the policy change, ‘principal suspensions,’ which range from one to five days, for younger students and cases of minor infractions will follow the same procedure. After the vote, a conversation with the principal is initiated to discuss potential alternative disciplinary measures.

“Suspension alone doesn’t change a child’s behavior,” Lois Herrera, CEO of Youth Safety and Development, told Gotham Gazette. “But, for example, restorative practices where the student has to take ownership of the behavior, explain the harm or understand the harm that is caused, and then come up with a solution for repairing the harm is so much more powerful in terms of changing behavior.”

What Herrera is explaining is the move toward the “restorative justice” model of school discipline, where students are guided in repairing relationships and investigating the causes of their actions. The process has been panned by some, but the de Blasio administration and the City Council have both committed to it for New York City schools.

In the first half of the school year, the number of suspensions decreased by almost 32 percent compared to the first half of last school year, according to a report from the DOE. While many saw this as a mark of success, criticisms of the new suspension policy also began to pick up steam. Representatives from both charter school advocacy groups and the teachers’ union expressed concerns, claiming the new policy interferes with discipline and jeopardizes student safety.

The DOE does not oversee disciplinary practices at charter schools. Some charter schools, especially the Success Academy network, have come under scrutiny for their “zero tolerance” discipline code and high suspension rates. Education reform groups like Families for Excellent Schools and StudentsFirstNY, erstwhile de Blasio critics, have become especially vocal in criticizing the de Blasio administration’s discipline policy. A group led by Families for Excellent Schools even filed a class action lawsuit against the DOE for its “refusal to take action to keep children safe.”

A typical de Blasio ally, the United Federation of Teachers, has seen its president say the DOE has not provided adequate support for schools to begin using alternative discipline.

The DOE has received $47 million from the city to fund restorative justice programs and mental health supports in schools throughout the city during the next academic year. According to DOE officials, the funding will be used for staff training in social-emotional learning, youth suicide prevention, and therapeutic crisis intervention. It will also allow the DOE to hire more social workers, on-site mental health consultants, and counselors.

Staff trained in restorative disciplinary practices will learn to conduct restorative circles, which engage students in repairing and developing relationships, and restorative conferences, which hold a student accountable for his or her actions and the resulting harm and also provides an opportunity to repair the harm.

“It isn’t just about taking away something,” said Herrera. “It’s about also providing support and a new way of thinking. It’s a little bit of a mindshift, and in a system as large as the DOE a mindshift can take a number of years.”

After years of advocacy by some, the changes began last November when Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan to reduce the use of punitive school discipline and lower school crime rates.

“Parents in all neighborhoods across New York City deserve to the peace of mind to know that their children are empowered to learn and succeed in a safe, inclusive environment,” Mayor de Blasio said in a press release. “This roadmap will ensure that schools across the city bring families, educators, safety professionals, and community leaders together to support one of New York City's most prized resources – our students."

The release also stated that harsh discipline policies disproportionately affected students of color and students with disabilities. Last October, Chalkbeat NY reported that black students received about 52 percent of the previous year’s suspensions, even though they represent 28 percent of students. Students with disabilities - 18 percent of the student population - received 38 percent of the suspensions. Zakiyah Ansari, advocacy director at Alliance for Quality Education, a teachers union-backed group, believes that suspensions for childish behavior, such as writing on a desk or yelling, drive this racial disparity.

“The disparities are clear. The racial lines are very clear, not only in New York but across the country, of what children are being suspended,” Ansari said in a phone interview. “It’s important to remember that the DOE hasn’t eliminated suspensions as an option for schools, but that it created another level of authorization for suspensions for minor infractions.”

With this added authorization, Ansari hopes that school officials will continue to have in-depth conversations about what supports students need and that students will learn better conflict resolution skills.

Relying on disciplinary measures other than suspension can also benefit students’ futures, research has shown. When de Blasio created a Mayoral Leadership Team on School Climate and Discipline last year, researchers studied the negative effects of suspensions and repeated behavioral referrals. According to NYU Professor Eddie Fergus, who served as the co-chair of the team’s data and research group, suspensions result in loss of educational time, attendance issues, and a higher likelihood of involvement with the criminal justice system.

A majority of education advocates, academics, and other experts agree that students should not be suspended from school for things like talking back to a teacher or engaging in a verbal argument with a classmate. All agree, though, that schools must have the proper resources to work with students in conflict. If there has been a choppy first phase of the new DOE discipline policy, it has been around those resources. The ratio of students to guidance counselors in city schools has been the subject of controversy recently, and the de Blasio administration has increased funding for more counselors.

There are also always those resistant to change, some point out.

Advocates for Children began the School Justice Project to address the root causes of suspension and help keep students out of the criminal justice system. The project also helps students in juvenile detention or those returning from detention stay on track to reach their academic goals.

“When students are suspended, it increases their likelihood of not graduating from high school, it increases their likelihood of being involved in the juvenile justice system,” said Paulina Davis, supervising attorney of AFC’s School Justice Project. “There are high stakes outcomes on the line every time a student is suspended. So it’s really a process that we need to be very thoughtful about.”

by Carmen Russo, Gotham Gazette

De Blasio School Discipline Policy Shift Causes A Stir Wed, 25 May 2016 04:00:00 +0000