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NYCLU: Buffalo Student’s Suspension Must be Investigated

The Western Regional Office of the New York Civil Liberties Union today called for an independent investigation of a recent five-week suspension of a McKinley High School senior citing numerous apparent violations of the student’s rights, including the school’s failure to provide the student with a proper suspension hearing as required by New York’s Education Law.

The NYCLU also called on the City of Buffalo to investigate suspension practices in the city’s public schools to ensure that they do not overly target students of color and do not punish students with long term suspensions for minor infractions, such as using a cell phone in school.

The student, Jayvonna Kincannon, an honor roll student at Buffalo’s McKinley High School, returned to classes yesterday after serving more than five weeks of a proposed seven week suspension for, among other things, using a cell phone on school property to attempt to be added to a speakers list for a Buffalo School board meeting.

“This suspension underscores the growing disregard for the rights of students,” said John A. Curr III , the director of the NYCLU’s Western Regional Office. “We are witnessing an alarming trend nationwide of zero tolerance policies that severely and excessively punish students for normal adolescent behavior and contribute to the failure of the public education system.”

The over-policing of the schools combined with an over-reliance on harsh disciplinary methods, such as expulsions and extended suspension, disrupts education and pushes many students out of school and into the streets and even the prison system.

According to a recent national study, students who have been suspended are three times more likely to drop out of school by the 10th grade than students who have never been suspended. Further, school suspension rates have soared throughout the country due to an increase in zero tolerance policies and other harsh disciplinary methods.

“Schools should be pushing our kids into college and good jobs, not the streets,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “Tragically, the children impacted by these practices are often the most vulnerable – special needs students and young people of color.”

The NYCLU’s call for the independent investigation echoes remarks made late yesterday by City of Buffalo School Board Members Catherine Nugent Panepinto and Ralph Hernandez, as well as State Board of Regents Chancellor Robert M. Bennett who called for a “vigorous pursuit” of this case.

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