Policy Priorities

Policy Priorities image of kids


Ending Zero Tolerance Policies and the Criminalization of Youth in Schools

New York's schools all too often serve as way stations on children's journeys through the cradle to prison pipeline. In far too many schools throughout New York, police officers significantly outnumber guidance counselors, suspensions and expulsions have skyrocketed in recent years, and twelve-year old students can be arrested and handcuffed for actions as simple as writing “I love my friends” on a desk. Punitive school discipline policies and policing practices in schools are pushing our children out of school by criminalizing rather than educating and socializing them.

Building upon our existing efforts to dismantle the cradle to prison pipeline and in collaboration with several local, state, and federal coalitions, we aim to end zero tolerance practices and the criminalization of children in New York’s schools.

The school-to-prison pipeline is a phenomenon that captures the movement of students who are suspended and/or arrested and subsequently put at greater risk for dropping out, being court involved  or being incarcerated.

CDF-NY Testimony at September 2014 Education Committee Hearing

CDF-NY's testimony at the June 2013 NYC DOE Discipline Code Hearing

CDF-NY’s testimony at the April 2013 City Council Hearing on Examining School Climate and Safety

CDF-NY’s testimony at the June 2012 NYC DOE Discipline Code Hearing

CDF-NY’s testimony at the November 2011 City Council Hearing on New York City's Department of Eduation's Suspension Data

Our Partners In This Work

Dignity in Schools Campaign: CDF-NY is a steering committee member of the Dignity in Schools Campaign – New York (DSC-NY). The DSC-NY has identified three broad goals: 1) ending zero-tolerance and criminalization of youth in schools, 2) expanding training around utilizing positive discipline approaches and creating positive school climate, and 3) implementing restorative justice and positive behavior interventions and supports by modeling such practices in pilot schools. Currently, CDF-NY and DSC-NY advocate for the following changes to the New York City Department of Education Discipline Code:

1. End all suspensions for minor behavior infractions, like “defying authority” or shoving or pushing, listed in Level 3 of the Discipline Code.

2. Require that schools use positive interventions before they can suspend a student, including for behaviors like fighting listed in Level 4-5 of the Discipline Code, and direct schools to use suspension only as a last resort.

3. End long-term suspensions of more than 10 days and prohibit students from being suspended for more than 10 days total over the school year.

NYC DOE Discipline Code Twitter Party: On June 19, 2013, CDF-NY and DSC-NY co-organized their first-ever Twitter party in order to raise awareness and support for proposed Code changes with respect to NYCDOE's June 20th deadline for public comments. Community members and stakeholders came together to send 472 tweets in the designated hour, reaching tens of thousands of Twitter followers.

Bronx School Justice Working Group: CDF-NY is a member of the Bronx School Justice Working Group, a coalition of community members, the Department of Education, and New York Police Department, which works primarily to improve school climate in Bronx schools through strategic collaboration. As part of this effort, CDF-NY has taken the lead in developing and offering supplemental trainings for almost 500 NYPD School Safety Agents. Such trainings are intended to improve and foster positive relationships between students, parents, and safety agents. CDF-NY’s school climate reform efforts represent a need to create an open space for communities to share concerns and perspectives aimed at student achievement.

As of March 2013, the Bronx School Justice Working Group has facilitated  three CDF-NY-developed workshops for safety agents. Overall responses from the safety agents indicated that the workshop was eye-opening, who reflected on their experiences in Bronx schools in order to brainstorm disciplinary approaches that look past zero tolerance practices.

NYC School Justice Partnership Taskforce: CDF-NY is a member of the NYC School Justice Partnership Taskforce, which aims to raise awareness of schools’ over-reliance on suspensions and arrests and its impact on the lives of thousands of students in NYC. The Taskforce released a report, Keeping Kids In School and Out of Court, in May 2013, which highlights the use of alternatives such as restorative justice, positive behavioral supports, and social-emotional learning. Such practices more appropriately deal with student misbehavior and help build positive school climate, which is necessary for keeping students safe and learning. To read the report, please click here.

Boys and Girls High: CDF-NY has been heavily involved in improving school climate at Boys and Girls High School (BGHS) in Brooklyn. Our efforts at BGHS have focused on facilitating communications between the school and students as well as in supporting community-based organizations and stakeholders in developing approaches to serving and motivating students.

Previous Efforts

NYC Student Safety Coalition: CDF-NY was a member of the NYC Student Safety Coalition. The Student Safety Coalition was committed to creating respectful school environments and ensuring the right to education for all New York City students. The coalition's most immediate objective included the passage of the Student Safety Act by the New York City Council. The Student Safety Act offered a way to ensure that school administrators, teachers and school safety agents were held accountable through reporting of disaggregated data related to arrests and suspensions in NYC schools. The Student Safety Act was passed in 2011 due to community-wide efforts. Now that these data are available, it is possible to have a much  more productive and nuanced conversations about discipline at the individual school level.

Rochester School Discipline Taskforce: In Rochester, New York, CDF-NY convened a taskforce of community stakeholders to respond to the over 300% increase in juvenile arrests in schools in the 2008-2009 academic year. As a direct response to the new Superintendent’s policy requiring that in-school suspensions replace out-of-school suspensions (an initiative intended to ensure students would lose less instructional time), many principals resorted to having students arrested. Arresting young people for non-criminal public order offenses became a common technique for removing “problem students” from schools. As a result of this community response, arrests quickly decreased.