Report: Education Interrupted: The Growing Use of Suspensions in New York City’s Public Schools (2011)

The New York State Constitution guarantees a free public education to all children in New York. In addition, both international human rights bodies and U.S. courts have recognized that a free education is the cornerstone of success and social development for young people. In Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court unequivocally stated, “In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education.”

Unfortunately, growing reliance on exclusionary punishments such as suspensions effectively denies many children their right to an education. This is true nationwide, and also in New York City, where zero tolerance discipline is the norm. The New York Civil Liberties Union analyzed 10 years of discipline data from New York City schools, and found that:

  • The total number of suspensions in New York City grew at an alarming rate over the last decade: One out of every 14 students was suspended in 2008-2009; in 1999-2000 it was one in 25. In 2008-2009, this added up to more than 73,000 suspensions.
  • Students with disabilities are four times more likely to be suspended than students without disabilities.
  • Black students, who comprise 33 percent of the student body, served 53 percent of suspensions over the past 10 years. Black students with disabilities represent more than 50 percent of suspended students with disabilities.
  • Black students also served longer suspensions on average and were more likely to be suspended for subjective misconduct, like profanity and insubordination.
  • Suspensions are becoming longer: More than 20 percent of suspensions lasted more than one week in 2008-2009, compared to 14 percent in 1999-2000. The average length of a long-term suspension is five weeks (25 school days).
  • Between 2001 and 2010, the number of infractions listed in the schools’ Discipline Code increased by 49 percent. During that same period, the number of zero tolerance infractions, which mandate a suspension regardless of the individual facts of the incident, increased by 200 percent.
  • Thirty percent of suspensions occur during March and June of each school year.
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