New York City Is About To Take A Step Toward Ending The School-To-Prison Pipeline

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio CREDIT: AP PHOTO/MIKE GROLL
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio CREDIT: AP PHOTO/MIKE GROLL

A proposal to ban school suspensions for students in Kindergarten through second grade in the country’s largest school system will likely be finalized in the coming weeks.

The plan, introduced by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) last week, would end the use of suspensions for young students, replacing them with “age-appropriate” methods. If the plan is adopted, New York City would join Minneapolis as a big district enacting a ban on suspending young students. The initiative would also increase funding for student mental health services and restorative justice programs, as well as call for increased transparency from the New York City Police Department about the number of students arrested at schools and how often they are handcuffed.

The plan follows a reform effort last year by de Blasio to curb the overall number of students suspended in New York City schools. That plan seems to have worked thus far, as the number of students suspended during the first half of the 2015–16 academic year dropped by 32 percent versus the previous year.

Research has shown that ending or limiting the number of young suspended students can have myriad benefits. One is that it could begin to address the problem of the school-to-prison pipeline, which predominately impacts people of color. Black preschool students are 3.6 times as likely as white preschool students to receive one or more out of school suspensions, according to data compiled from 2013–14 by the U.S. Department of Education. And a young student who is suspended or expelled is 10 times more likely to drop out of high school and become incarcerated than one who is not, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Education.

And ending suspensions, even for a small group of students, could also save money. For example, the cost of suspending 10th grade high school students reached $35 billion due to the costs of the criminal justice system, lost tax dollars, and public assistance needed later on in life for those individuals, according to a report released in June of this year by the University of California’s Civil Rights Project. The report estimated that California could save $3.1 billion if suspension rates were cut in half, while Florida could save $816 million.

Educational reform advocates such as Urban Youth Collaborative (UYC) Coordinator Kesi Foster praised de Blasio’s initiatives in a press release, writing that they are “important measures that all stakeholders committed to ending the school-to-prison pipeline should embrace and support.” However, she also said “these recommendations will not eliminate deep and pervasive racial inequities in school discipline.”

Onyx Walker, a youth leader at the UYC, also said the plan doesn’t go far enough, stating in a press release that “Eliminating suspensions for K-2nd grade is progress, but we have much further to go if we are going to make school welcoming for everyone” and that we have to “expand that same compassion and understanding for youth of all ages, and sexual and gender identities, and we have to break this cycle of Black students being pushed into the criminal justice system.”

Evan Popp is an intern at ThinkProgress.