New Code of Conduct Designed to Reduce Suspensions; Increase Graduation Rate
A coalition of parents and community members led by Citizen Action of New York and the Alliance for Quality Education today applauded the Buffalo Board of Education for passage of a new Code of Conduct that advocates say will bring common-sense discipline back to classrooms across the city. The groups worked collaboratively with Buffalo Public Schools to recommend and help craft the new Code.
“Our goal has been to shift our approach from primarily punitive responses to restorative ones–from reaction to intervention. Principals and student support teams have worked very hard at bringing an intervention-based framework to our schools. This new Code reflects all of that work,” said Associate Superintendent for Educational Services Dr. Will Keresztes. “This was a model of collaboration among stakeholders. We established some best practices for community-wide collaboration that should be remembered.”
“Buffalo’s new Code of Conduct is one of the most progressive in the country, and serves as a model for the entire nation. The new discipline code eliminates suspensions for minor misbehaviors and instead focuses on the use of intervention and prevention strategies known to work, such as referrals to support staff, conflict resolution, and restorative justice. The Code will help keep students safe and address student misbehavior, while keeping them on the path to success,” said Jason Sinocruz, Staff Attorney for Advancement Project who worked closely with the school district on developing the new Code. “We look forward to helping to fully implement the new Code before the start of the new school year.”
“Education is the gateway to a brighter future, more secure future. This plan will help ensure Buffalo schools live up to this promise and more adequately prepare ALL children for growth and opportunity,” said Sue Gillick, Board Member of Citizen Action of Western New York.
“All students deserve to be on pathways to college or careers, but far too many in our city school system are systematically pushed out of the classroom and into the juvenile justice system through the overuse of suspensions and harsh disciplinary policies,” said Sherry Byrnes, Alliance for Quality Education leader and member of Citizen Action of New York. “As a caring, democratic community, we have a responsibility to create safe, high quality schools for our children and to provide them with every opportunity to succeed.”
Unfortunately, this has not always been the case in Buffalo. In the 2009-2010 school year, 1 out of every 5 Buffalo students were suspended. This is higher than the New York state average of 1 out of every 20 students. Although Black students constitute only 56% of the Buffalo student body, they comprise 72% of students who are suspended.
“It’s our children who are suffering, but all of us are affected. Once a child has been suspended, the child has a harder time staying on track academically. In fact, children who are suspended are at increased risk of dropping out altogether,” said Ina Ferguson-Downing, Alliance for Quality Education leader and member of Citizen Action of New York. “This new Code of Conduct is a great start to stopping the school-to-prison pipeline!”
In 2010, 15-year old Jawaan Daniels was given an out-of-school suspension for wandering the halls at school. As he left the school that day to begin serving the out-of-school suspension, he was the victim of a drive-by shooting.
“Had Jawaan been in school, he might still be alive today. His is a fate, no child, no parent, no community should have to endure,” said James E. Payne, Board Member of Citizen Action of Western New York.
Following Jawaan Daniel’s death, Citizen Action New York and Alliance for Quality Education (CANY/AQE) stepped up their pressure on the school system to review and update the school discipline code. They worked behind the scenes with Buffalo Public Schools for months to help develop the plan which will address student misbehavior, while keeping youth on the path to success. Specifically, the code will:
- Focus on proven prevention and intervention strategies, such as Positive Interventions Support (PBIS), referrals to support staff, and alternatives to suspension, such as conflict resolution and restorative justice. For example, before being suspended for a behavior such as “minor fighting,” under the new Code, the school will intervene with the students involved and use a restorative justice process to get at the root of the problem. These prevention and intervention strategies more effectively address behavior and help kepp students in school and learning.
- More clearly define the misbehaviors that violate the Code and the consequences attached to them, with an emphasis on eliminating suspensions for minor misbehaviors. For example, under the new Code, students cannot be suspended for a minor disruption on the bus, dress code violations, and running around in the hallways.
- Contain easy to follow due process charts and timelines so that students, parents, and families know their rights and can advocate for themselves when facing unfair discipline.
- Require mandatory staff training on the Code’s contents.
- Contain requirements for annual data collection and public review.
The new Code of Conduct is on par with a broader push by the National School Boards Association who earlier this month released a new policy guide urging schools to move away from exclusionary discipline policies that data shows disproportionately impact children of color. The policy guide, Addressing the Out-of-School Suspension Crisis, rightly asserts:
School disciplinary measures should not be used to exclude students from school or otherwise deprive them of an education, and should be used as a last resort in schools in order to preserve the safety of students and staff. While overly harsh school discipline policies can affect all students, they have disproportionately impacted students of color. In the past few years, numerous reports and studies have highlighted the racial disparities in school suspension and expulsion as well as their negative impact on student achievement.