NYCLU: School suspensions follow stop-and-frisk patterns

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New York City public school suspension rates mirror stop-and-frisk patterns in city neighborhoods, according to a comparison of data assembled and released today by the New York Civil Liberties Union.

Regardless of where students attend school, students who live in areas with the highest stop-and-frisk rates are more likely to be suspended than students who live in other neighborhoods, the NYCLU found.

"I wish we were surprised by this," NYCLU executive director Donna Lieberman told Capital. "It seems there's a target population for the heavy hand of the law."

East New York has the highest rate of stop-and-frisk, with 20,288 stops in 2010-2011, with East New York students comprising 6.2 percent of the city's suspensions. Police conducted 20,149 stops in Central Brooklyn in 2010-2011, and students in Central Brooklyn make up 7.7 percent of the city's suspension rate. In the report, released Tuesday, the NYCLU argues that high suspension rates contribute to a so-called school-to-prison pipeline that leaves a disproportionate number of young black men in jail.

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The school-to-prison pipeline is exacerbated by the presence of school safety officers; there are now at least 5,200 officers in public school buildings, a 35 percent increase since Bloomberg took office, according to the NYCLU. Black students served half of all 2010-2011 suspensions, even though they make up less than a third of the city's public school population.

And the total number of yearly suspensions has more than doubled during Bloomberg's tenure as mayor; from 29,000 in 2001 to almost 70,000 in 2011.

Students with special needs and students from low-income families were also disproportionately suspended compared to other students, according to the data.

Students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch made up 75 percent of the total suspensions, and special-needs students made up 29 percent of suspensions.

High suspension rates are driven by a zero-tolerance disciplinary policy, the report argues, dating to 2004 when Bloomberg called for a 'three-strikes' policy for offenses and an "immediate, consistent minimum response to even minor violations of the discipline code."

The current discipline code includes 62 possible infractions, the NYCLU found. Nearly half of suspensions in 2010 (over 32,000) were for non-violent offenses.

"We believe effective discipline is an essential component of maintaning a positive school environment," Lieberman said, adding that she believes harsh discipline meted out by under-trained school safety officers is ineffective.

Asked for comment about suspension rates, a Department of Education spokeswoman told Capital, "We provide schools with training on peer mediation and conflict resolution and we continue to see suspension rates go down since 2006 when we began fully operationalizing our suspension data collecting system. The NYCLU is not comparing apples to apples."