City Reports More Suspensions, but Serious Crimes Declined

City schools reported handing out more suspensions to students in the last year than before, but most of that increase was owed to a jump in less-serious infractions, while reported cases of egregious misbehavior dropped.

City Department of Education officials announced on Tuesday that the number of suspensions given students citywide increased to 73,441 in 2010-2011, from 71,721 the previous school year.

During this time, schools reported giving students fewer superintendent's suspensions, which can force students out of school for six days or several months, depending on the severity of their actions. But schools reported many more principal's suspensions, which can last from one to five days and are given for more minor infractions, like cursing at a teacher or cheating on an exam.

The city's data show that black and Hispanic students are on the receiving end of most school suspensions. More than half of all suspensions were given to black students last year, though they account for about a third of students in the city's schools. Hispanic students, who make up close to 40 percent of public school students, got about 37 percent of the suspensions. Nearly a third of all suspensions were given to special education students.

While suspensions rose slightly in the last year, schools' reporting of major crimes fell by roughly 5 percent. The number of homicides, rapes, robberies, felony assaults, burglaries, grand larceny and grand larceny of autos dropped to 801 episodes in the school year that ended in 2011, from 841 the previous year.

In total, the city released principal and superintendent suspension figures for 462 of its 1,700 schools. Most schools had their data withheld because they had fewer than 10 suspensions in either category last year, and Education Department officials said that releasing this data could lead to the identification of individual students, violating students' privacy rights.

Without suspension figures for most schools, it is difficult to compare suspension rates across the city accurately. In the last decade, the city's Education Department has opened many small schools that with only 500 or 600 students, are less likely than their larger peers to give more than 10 suspensions in a year. The department also did not release citywide totals, which would indicate the average length of a student suspension, at what age most students are given suspensions, and what types of infractions are most common.

Yet what data there is can be startling. At Junior High School 13 Jackie Robinson in East Harlem, the school gave more suspensions than there were students. Last year, there were 294 superintendent or principal's suspensions and 266 students.

At Herbert H. Lehman High School, which enrolled 3,925 students in the 2010-11 school year, there were 2,097 suspensions that year. Most were categorized as level one behavior, like arriving late for class or being rude. Eighteen 18 suspensions were given for smoking, and 122 for horseplay. But Lehman also gave 219 suspensions to students for physically aggressive behavior.

"Certainly many kids were suspended multiple times," said a Lehman teacher, who spoke on the condition that he not be identified. "The majority of the student body does not get in trouble. But for whatever reason, when many schools would give a kid a slap on the wrist, the principal and assistant principals didn't hold back."

The teacher said that there has been less cause to discipline students this year under Lehman's new principal, who he said is "out in the hallway talking to students."

Noting the drop in violent crimes, Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott said that city students are safer today than they were in the past.

"We all would like to see the suspension numbers come down," he said, "and want to dig in to the data where we see big disparities in race and ethnicity — we also want to make sure that we are trying mediation and counseling where possible before suspending students."

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said the data showed that the city's Education Department was giving suspensions too casually and too frequently.

"The bad news is that suspensions remain through the roof," Ms. Lieberman said. "And this is after a year in which the D.O.E. has been operating with a supposedly less onerous code of discipline."

According to a report on student suspensions, which the civil liberties union published in 2011, schools gave far more suspensions last year than they did before Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg won control of the schools. In 2003, the city recorded 31,879 suspensions.

Below are the 25 schools with the highest suspension rates for the 2010-11 school year.

School District Neighborhood Enrollment Suspensions Per 100
J.H.S. 13 Jackie Robinson 4 East Harlem 266 294 110.53
The Brooklyn Academy of Global Finance 16 Bedford-Stuyvesant 144 141 97.92
New Day Academy 12 Fairmont - Claremont Village 339 311 91.74
East Bronx Academy for the Future 12 Fairmont - Claremont Village 629 444 70.59
Academy of Collaborative Education 5 Harlem 129 83 64.34
Secondary School for Research 15 Park Slope North 426 267 62.68
I.S. 49 Berta A. Dreyfus 31 Clifton 879 539 61.32
Jonathan Levin High School for Media and Communications 9 Claremont 413 253 61.26
Global Neighborhood Secondary School 4 East Harlem 197 118 59.90
Academy for Scholarship and Entrepreneurship 11 Wakefield 602 358 59.47
M.S. 399 10 Fordham Heights 251 149 59.36
New Horizons School 15 Gowanus 193 112 58.03
Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation 12 West Farms 317 182 57.41
M.S. 53 Brian Piccolo 27 Far Rockaway 500 280 56.00
The Urban Assembly School for Media Studies 3 Upper West Side 344 191 55.52
Herbert H. Lehman High School 8 Schuylerville 3,925 2,097 53.43
Business Of Sports School 2 Clinton 210 110 52.38
The Global Learning Collaborative 3 Upper West Side 210 109 51.90
The Urban Assembly School For Green Careers 3 Upper West Side 186 96 51.61
Academy of Hospitality and Tourism 17 Flatbush 310 154 49.68
Rachel Carson High School for Coastal Studies 21 Coney Island 468 227 48.50
Academy for Conservation and the Environment 18 Canarsie 187 89 47.59
Preparatory Academy for Writers 29 Springfield Gardens 411 192 46.72
Community School for Social Justice 7 Mott Haven 332 154 46.39
J.H.S. M44 William J. O’Shea 3 Upper West Side 67 31 46.27