Softer Suspension Rules for Younger Students

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Children in kindergarten through third grade who commit disruptive acts such as pushing or shoving will not get long suspensions from school anymore, now that the Department of Education has revised its discipline code.

The change applies to what's called a superintendent's suspension for disruptive behavior at level 3 out of 5 on the discipline code's scale of infractions. A superintendent's suspension automatically requires students to be suspended for six to 10 days.

Education officials describe disruptive behavior as pushing and shoving or writing graffiti. Higher levels of infractions include more aggressive, dangerous or violent behavior. Students can still get long superintendent's suspensions for those actions.

The change was made at the urging of the City Council, which held a hearing on the matter last spring. Council Speaker Christine Quinn said sending younger students home for six days or more did not fit a low-level infraction.

“That suspension -- given how young they are -- happened oftentimes instead of intervention, instead of conversations, instead of meetings with the parent,” she said.

The maximum penalty for younger students who have committed this level of infraction would now be five days. The Education Department also changed language in the code in order to encourage teachers and school staff to start with guidance-based intervention rather than discipline, such as holding a conference with the child and his or her parents.

Marge Feinberg, a spokeswoman for the Education Department, said stakeholders review the discipline code each year and propose changes.

“We want to be able to address improper behavior before it reaches a higher level, and to do that we are focused on providing strong student support services coupled with parent involvement,” she said.

The changes come nearly two years after the Council passed the Student Safety Act, which requires the education department to report on school safety issues and suspension data on a quarterly basis.