The New York City Department of Education today released data showing a significant drop in suspensions of New York City public schoolchildren. Between July 1 and December 31 of last year, suspensions fell 32 percent from the same time period in 2014. At the same time, city schools are safer than they have been in a decade, with NYPD data indicating that crime has dropped over 50 percent since 2004.

“Mayor de Blasio has provided key leadership and direction to change the punitive discipline culture in New York City schools,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “The data supports what the NYCLU has long advocated: The city’s public schoolchildren need a safe and supportive environment, and excessive suspensions or sending children to the precinct is not the answer.”

For years, schoolchildren in New York City have been subjected to overly punitive school discipline policies that push students out of school, increase drop-out rates and unfairly impact students of color and those with special needs. Rather than creating a safe, supportive and nurturing environment in city schools, the overreliance on suspensions contributed to a School to Prison Pipeline for students of color and denied many schoolchildren their right to an education.

In 2015, Mayor de Blasio announced a series of policy initiatives to improve the climate in New York City public schools and end overly punitive school discipline policies that have been widely discredited as discriminatory and ineffective. The roadmap, which includes training school personnel in de-escalation and non-punitive discipline methods, is based on recommendations developed by the Mayor’s Leadership Team on School Climate and Discipline, a team which includes Lieberman.

Between July 1 and December 31 of last year, suspensions fell 32 percent from the same time period in 2014. More recent data extending to March 15, 2016 shows a lower, but still very significant 22 percent decline in suspensions. Suspensions for insubordination fell by a remarkable 81 percent. At the same time, total crime in schools is down 53 percent since 2004 and major crime is down 55 percent since 2004. The data runs counter to the claims of defenders of zero-tolerance discipline, who contended that the high number of suspensions was necessary to keep schools safe.

Today’s data also reports for the first time on children transported by Emergency Medical Services for psychological and emotional conditions, indicating that 14 percent of all transports fell into this category. This new data will be able to help advocates to better understand Department of Education practices moving forward.

Today’s data does not include demographic information, which must be reported later in the year. However, the decline in suspensions for insubordination – a huge source of racial disparities in the past -- is encouraging. In recent years racial disparities in who is given suspensions have been pronounced. In school year 2013-14, for example, black students made up only 26 percent of enrolled students but received 53 percent of all school suspensions.

“The city has more work to do to make all schools conducive learning environments for all children. But the drop in insubordination suspensions is a strong indicator that schools are getting better at resolving minor behavioral issues,” said Johanna Miller, advocacy director at the NYCLU. “We look forward to continuing to work with the mayor, the chancellor and the NYPD School Safety Division to end the criminalization of school discipline.”

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