As contract negotiations drag on, NYC principals union says schools are struggling with discipline reforms

School discipline reforms are creating major safety concerns on campus, and school leaders need more support implementing changes, the New York City principals union said in a letter sent Wednesday to the chancellor.

The letter comes as the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators continues to negotiate a contract with the city, nine months after it expired.

“In many schools, misconduct is on the rise, leading some students to believe there are little or no consequences for disruptive, openly defiant, and even violent behavior,” wrote President Mark Cannizzaro, echoing concerns that have also been brought up by the teachers union. “Staff members feel unsupported.” 

Suspensions in New York City schools have dropped by almost 40% in the last five years, driven by discipline reforms championed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, who oversees the school system. Many say the changes are necessary because students of color and those with disabilities are more likely to be punished, with potentially significant academic consequences

Education department spokeswoman Miranda Barbot said the city’s reforms are helping to make schools “more safe and welcoming spaces.”

“We’ll keep working closely with schools to give them the tools they need to effectively manage and de-escalate conflict, and are in ongoing conversations with the CSA about important issues impacting principals,” Barbot wrote. 

The union’s letter insists members are supportive of the “philosophical shift” in discipline approaches, but says the city has done a poor job implementing changes, and have eroded principals’ decision-making in the process. The union cites a survey of members that shows only 21% of school leaders are satisfied with recent reforms. Just a third said they are satisfied with the education department’s approach to school safety. 

As part of the solution, the union is asking for increased school funding. Other demands include requiring at least one assistant principal at each school, and giving leaders more discretion to hire additional assistant principals. Assistant principals make up a majority of union members. 

“While our members will always do everything in their power to keep our children safe, they are at a point where they are simply unable to do so without more resources and support,” Cannizzaro wrote.