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Letter: Treat Student Misbehavior with Common Sense (Staten Island Advance)

To the Editor:

Tom Wrobleski misses the point in his 2-23 column (“New school discipline rules a recipe for disaster”). All kids break the rules – that’s what being a kid is all about. The question is how do you respond to routine misbehavior? Is it a teachable moment or a one-way ticket into the criminal justice system? Sadly, over the past decade, New York City has increasingly responded with the latter – at least in some schools.

During 2013-14, more than four arrests or criminal summonses were issued every day of the school year, turning standard misbehavior like drawing on the desk into criminal matters. “Insubordination” and horseplay resulted in nearly 14,000 suspensions for sixth through 12th graders.

Young men of color and those with special needs bear the overwhelming brunt of these policies. The consequences are severe: Children who get pushed into the criminal justice system are less likely than their peers to graduate. And children who are suspended when they misbehave are less likely to graduate than their peers who are not suspended for similar misbehavior.

The good news is that school arrests and summonses have gone down over the past year – as has crime. And the de Blasio administration has taken some important steps to provide teachers with alternatives to suspensions or arrests when a child needs a trip to the guidance counselor more than he needs a trip to the police precinct.

But this must just be the beginning. Educators and police personnel must work together with the mandate to help children, not get rid of them or demonize them. And all school employees must learn de-escalation and conflict resolution.

All New York City children deserve safe, secure and supportive schools. Adopting common sense and humane discipline policies that help children learn from their mistakes is not a luxury. It is a crucial step in making that vision a reality.

By Donna Lieberman
Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union

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