2004-01-07 / Editorials

Editorial

Hail School Discipline Policy Reform

A plan to remove disruptive students from city schools was announced Monday by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly. High schools in all five boroughs and two middle schools in The Bronx are covered under the new rules.

Among the disciplinary procedures imposed are mandatory removal of any student found carrying a weapon or causing serious bodily injury to a teacher, an administrator or another student. Any such student will be removed from his or her school and will not be permitted to return. Instead, the student will be placed in a Second Opportunity School and, most important, will not be allowed to return to the school where the infraction was committed pending a suspension hearing and transfer to a new academic setting. Another element of the new disciplinary policy mandates that students with two principal’s or superintendent’s suspensions on their records on receiving a third such suspension will be removed from school, placed in another instructional site while awaiting their suspension hearing. At the suspension hearing, administrators will request that the student be transferred to a new setting to address their academic and behavioral issues, rather than be returned to their old schools.

The new policy, which designates the 12 high schools and two middle schools as Impact Schools and mandates that extra school safety and police officers be assigned to them, also requires the police department to establish a 150-member uniformed school safety task force dedicated to the Impact Schools. When the new semester starts in February, officers assigned to this task force will patrol trouble areas in schools until a new school safety division task force can take over. School safety intervention teams will evaluate safety conditions and procedures. Also, beginning in February, additional sites for suspended students will be opened. The new disciplinary plan is not expected to be restricted to the 14 schools where it had its inception. Even as some schools improve or decline academically, some schools in the system will be added to the list of Impact Schools and others will be removed as they are evaluated by school safety intervention teams.

Teachers and administrators welcome the new rules. When Bloomberg and Klein imposed extensive reforms on the school system last year they instituted a centralized disciplinary process, an inadvertent result of which was that unruly, disruptive and violent students were sent back to sit in the same classes and walk the same halls as the students and teachers they had victimized. Congressmember Anthony Weiner conducted a survey of 92 high schools across the city and found that under the old system school officials usually received a response to a request to suspend a student within 48 hours, since September 2003, the new discipline process left administrators and teachers waiting for as long as three weeks for suspensions to be authorized. Meanwhile, students who attacked other students or were found carrying drugs and weapons were back in the schools where they had committed their infractions. We shudder to think of the message inadvertently sent with the return of such students to the scene of their misdeeds

The policy changes are welcome news, not only to the faculty and staff and the majority of the students at the 14 designated Impact Schools. At all levels of the New York City school system, the vast majority of students are in school because they want to learn. Even those without a strongly academic bent are aware that the longer they stay in school the better their chances of reaching higher income levels than someone who drops out. All resent class clowns and bullies constantly interrupting teachers and threatening students.

Teachers have to do the best they can with the students they have, and protecting the many students who want to learn from the few bad apples is part of the job description. Nevertheless, they did not go through college and often graduate school to find themselves trying to control ungovernable delinquents. The new disciplinary plan, focused as it is on removing students who have exhausted all their second chances and who no longer deserve the privilege of attending regular school, is sound educational and public safety policy. We applaud Bloomberg and Klein and wish them and the schools in their charge immediate and long-lived success.


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