Task Force Urges Changes in School Discipline

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An influential group of criminal justice and youth experts is urging the next mayor of New York City to reform the way students are disciplined, and dramatically reduce the number of school suspensions and arrests.

"Suspension and arrest significantly increase the likelihood of students repeating a grade, dropping out of school entirely and ultimately facing the court system," said Judge Judith Kaye, former chief judge for New York. Last year in New York City, nearly 900 students were arrested at school and nearly 70,000 students were suspended.

Kaye convened a 45-member task force in 2011 to examine the issue. On Thursday it released the report called Keeping Kids In School and Out of Court.

The report outlines the well-known disparities in suspensions and arrests in New York City schools, including the fact that black students are four times more likely to be suspended than white students. Black students also accounted for more than 62 percent of school arrests last year, while representing about 28 percent of the student body.

Based on four years of school arrest data provided by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, 79 percent of school arrests for 16- and 17-year-old students were for misdemeanors, said Kathleen DeCataldo, executive director for the New York State Judicial Commission on Justice for Children and a task force member.

"What this demonstrates is that we're using the courts and the justice system to handle relatively low-level adolescent misbehavior," she said.

The report recommends training school leaders to use more positive interventions -- such as counseling -- and monitoring a school’s approach to discipline to hold them accountable for using alternatives to suspension and arrests. The report also urges the next mayor to form a "leadership team," with members from different city agencies, law enforcement and community organizations.