NYC school suspensions increase by 13% in 2021, reaching pre-pandemic rates

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Newly released data reveals a significant increase in suspensions across New York City public schools during the last school year.

During the 2022-23 school year, schools issued 28,412 suspensions, marking a 13% surge compared to the previous school year, which was the first year students returned to school buildings after the pandemic.

Although the number of suspensions remained below the pre-pandemic levels, suspensions issued per capita returned to pre-pandemic levels due to a decrease in the number of students enrolled in grades K-12. (Please note that these figures exclude charter schools.)

It is challenging to determine the exact reasons behind the spike in suspensions last school year, which was the second year in-person attendance was required since the pandemic. Similar trends have been observed in other major districts like Nevada’s Clark County and Broward County, Florida.

One possible explanation is that educators may have been hesitant to remove students from classrooms during the first year of reopening to avoid further disruptions to their learning. However, this sentiment may have faded the following year. The issue of student mental health remains a concern that can impact behavior, and schools are not always adequately equipped to address it. Police Department data also indicates a 9% increase in the overall number of confiscated weapons in schools last year.

According to Robert Effinger, a social studies teacher at the Bronx High School of Business, fights and verbal altercations appeared to return to pre-pandemic levels as students became less cautious about the pandemic and masks were mostly off. He also noted that teachers were still readjusting to managing their classrooms effectively.

“I think some people had forgotten what it was like to go back to normal,” he said, adding that students were still adapting to regular school routines and feeling more skittish even when they first returned to full-time in-person learning the previous year.

As in previous years, the newly released suspension data highlights significant disparities among different student groups. Approximately 40% of all suspensions were given to Black students, even though they make up only 21% of the student population. Students with disabilities accounted for 38% of suspensions, although they represent about 22% of all students. Latino students comprised approximately 40% of suspensions, which aligns with their share of the student population. Meanwhile, white and Asian American students had lower suspension rates compared to their enrollment rates.

Despite this, the number of New York City students excluded from their classrooms remained relatively low, thanks in part to disciplinary reform efforts under former Mayor Bill de Blasio. However, with the increase in suspensions, some observers speculate that Mayor Eric Adams and schools Chancellor David Banks may be less focused on limiting their use.

Nelson Mar, an attorney at Bronx Legal Services, an organization representing students in suspension proceedings, expresses concern that the uptick might signal a “more disciplinarian approach” from the Adams administration.

“It definitely reflects the general attitude and approach,” he said.

As part of his efforts to combat crime, which is one of his key priorities, Adams has implemented stricter tactics. However, the administration has not presented a detailed vision for school discipline or initiated any changes to the discipline code, which outlines the city’s suspension policies. Banks has indicated that he does not favor a “zero tolerance” approach to school discipline but acknowledges the need for consequences for misbehavior.

A spokesperson from the Education Department did not express concern about the rise in suspensions last year or the disproportionate use of suspensions against Black students and students with disabilities. The spokesperson emphasized the expectation for students to adhere to school rules.

“We are focused on equipping schools with the necessary resources to address any issues, following our discipline code and incorporating meaningful educational opportunities,” wrote Jenna Lyle, a department spokesperson, in an email.

However, some advocates worry that schools will face resource constraints in addressing student behavior without relying on suspensions. The city temporarily used federal relief funding to hire additional social workers and expand funding for restorative justice programs, emphasizing peer mediations and other conflict resolution methods. These programs might face budget cuts next school year as the federal relief money dries up. Department officials have not specified if they are seeking alternative funding sources.

“We remain concerned about the expiration of federal funding and its implications for student support,” said Randi Levine, policy director at Advocates for Children. “Students need access to mental health professionals who can assist them in addressing their behavior.”

The figures also include a breakdown of suspensions based on severity. Principal suspensions, which last five days or fewer and are typically served in school, increased by nearly 14% last year. Superintendent suspensions, which extend beyond five days and are served at external suspension sites, saw an approximately 11% increase. (Although superintendent suspensions can technically last for a whole school year, they have been capped at 20 days in most cases since 2019.)

According to city law, the suspension data was required to be publicly released by the end of October. Despite receiving requests over the past two months, the Education Department declined to publish the statistics or provide an explanation for the delay. Ultimately, the officials released the figures after becoming aware that a story about the missing data was prepared for publication.

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