School safety

City will no longer suspend students in grades K-2, and releases a slew of new school crime data

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder
Ben Roter, 14, at a New York Civil Liberties Union protest about the use of police force in city schools in October 2014.

Schools will no longer be allowed to suspend students in kindergarten through second grade, one of a series of new safety policies announced Thursday that includes creating a process for removing metal detectors from some school buildings.

The decision to end suspensions for some of the city’s youngest students comes after a city task force issued its second and final report that spells out a series of recommendations aimed at making the school system’s disciplinary practices more fair.

This past school year, 801 suspensions were issued for students in kindergarten through second grade, down from 1,454 the previous year, an education department official said. The new policy will replace those suspensions with “age-appropriate discipline techniques” according to a press release.

Advocates largely praised the new suspension policy, though some thought it didn’t go far enough. “It’s progress – it’s a step in the right direction,” said Kesi Foster, a coordinator at the Urban Youth Collaborative, and a member of the city’s task force. “Transformative change would expand that same understanding and compassion” to high school students, he added, and eliminate suspensions for older students as well.

The new suspension policy drew criticism from United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, who wrote a letter to schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña blasting the decision. “The new plan claims that the DOE will provide schools with additional resources to address the challenges created by banning suspensions,” he wrote. “We are skeptical these new supports will materialize.”

Moving schools away from punitive discipline toward more restorative practices has been a hallmark of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s school reform strategy, but has met mixed reviews. The recommendations issued Thursday come from a city task force, which includes top officials. It was created to move the city away from practices that lead to students getting tangled in the criminal justice system, and which disproportionately affect black and Hispanic students, as well as those with disabilities.

The city also promised to implement a new procedure for removing metal detectors from school buildings, or only use them “part-time,” taking into account factors such as school size and weapon-related student activity near the building, an education department official said. Eighty-eight of the city’s 1,300 school buildings use metal detectors, according to the city, but according to a WNYC analysis, nearly half of all black high school students pass through metal detectors, compared with just 14 percent of their white peers.

“It’s very vague exactly what they’ve been doing or will do,” said Johanna Miller, advocacy director at the New York Civil Liberties Union, and member of the city task force, in reference to the metal detector policy. “We think they’re positive developments, but will be monitoring implementation.”

The city used the report to tout reductions in suspensions and crimes committed within schools — which have been the subject of a wider public relations battle with charter school supporters.

The NYPD also issued new statistics that include data on how often students have been handcuffed, and the number of arrests made by officers on school grounds.

According to a preliminary analysis of the data by the NYCLU, there were 1,555 student arrests last school year, and 436 student arrests this year from January through March.

Of the 436 arrests in the first quarter of 2016, just nine — or 2 percent — were white. And while 70 percent of the city’s students are black or Hispanic, that group represented 92 percent of arrests, according to a Chalkbeat analysis.

“Similar to street policing, racial disparities in school-based arrests are severe,” according to an NYCLU press release.

While the NYPD data show crime in the city’s schools is down roughly 50 percent since 2004, according the NYCLU, the new statistics also reveal almost 673 uses of restraints during the first quarter of 2016. Eighty-three of those incidents involved students who were emotionally disturbed.

Black and Hispanic students were also more likely to be restrained. Of the 673 restraints, 627 — or 93 percent — were used on black or Hispanic students. Two percent involved white students, Chalkbeat found.

In an interview, an NYPD official acknowledged the disproportionate effect policing has on black and Hispanic students, but said the department is open to discussions on how to eliminate it.

In its announcement, the city also promised to allocate $47 million annually “to support school climate initiatives and mental health services,” including adding mental health supports in 50 additional schools over the next three years.

“Today’s reforms ensure that school environments are safe and structured,” de Blasio said in a statement. “In partnership with the NYPD, my administration will continue to monitor school safety data to ensure enduring reductions in disciplinary disparities while improving school safety citywide.”

Annie Ma contributed data analysis

Finding a home

Denver school board permanently co-locates charter elementary in middle school building

Students and staffers at Rocky Mountain Prep's first charter school in Denver cheer in 2012. (Photo by The Denver Post)

A Denver elementary charter school that was temporarily granted space in a shuttering district-run middle school building will now be housed there permanently.

The school board voted Thursday to permanently place Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest charter school in the Kepner Middle School building, where it is sharing space this year with three other school programs. Such co-locations can be controversial but have become more common in a district with skyrocketing real estate prices and ambitious school quality goals.

Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest is part of a homegrown charter network that has shown promising academic results. The network also has a school in Aurora and is expected to open a third Denver school next year in the northwest part of the city.

Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest was first placed at Kepner for the 2015-16 school year. The placement was supposed to be temporary. The district had decided the year before to phase out low-performing Kepner and replace it a new district-run middle school, Kepner Beacon, and a new charter middle school, STRIVE Prep Kepner, which is part of a larger network. The district also temporarily placed a third charter school there: Compass Academy.

Compass has since moved out of Kepner but the other four schools remain: Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest, Kepner Beacon, STRIVE Prep Kepner and the Kepner Legacy Middle School, which is on track to be completely phased out and closed by June 2019.

In a written recommendation to the school board, district officials acknowledged that permanently placing Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest at Kepner would create a space crunch.

The Kepner campus has the capacity to serve between 1,100 and 1,500 students, the recommendation says. Once all three schools reach full size, officials expect the schools will enroll a total of approximately 1,250 students. Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest currently serves students in preschool through third grade with a plan to add more grades.

“DPS facilities staff are currently working with all three schools to create a long‐term vision for the campus, including facility improvements that ensure all three schools have what they need to continue to excel,” says the recommendation from Chief Operating Officer David Suppes and Director of Operations and Support Services Liz Mendez.

District staff tried to find an alternate location for Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest but were unsuccessful, the recommendation says. The district does not have many available buildings, and competition for them among district-run and charter schools can be fierce. In northeast Denver, seven secondary schools are currently vying for the use of a shuttered elementary.

Future of Schools

Indianapolis needs tech workers. IPS hopes that George Washington will help fill that gap.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy

Indiana companies are looking for workers with computer expertise, and Indianapolis Public Schools leaders want their students to fill that gap.

Next year, George Washington High School will launch a specialized information technology academy designed to give students the skills to pursue careers in IT — and the exposure to know what jobs even exist.

“Half of what kids aspire to be is either someone they know does it or they’ve seen it on TV,” said Karen Jung, president of Nextech, a nonprofit that works to increase computer science preparation in K-12 schools. Nextech is partnering with IPS to develop the new IT program at George Washington.

For teens who don’t know anyone working in computer science, meeting role models is essential, Jung said. When teens see women of color or artists working in computer sciences, they realize there are opportunities for people like them.

“Once we put them in front of and inside of workplaces … it clicks,” Jung said. They believe “they would belong.”

The IT program is one of three academies that will open in George Washington next year as part of a broad plan to close nearly half of the district’s high schools and add specialized focus areas at the four remaining campuses. In addition to the IT academy, George Washington will have programs in: advanced manufacturing, engineering, and logistics; and business and finance.

The district is also moving to a model without neighborhood high schools. Students will be expected to choose high schools based on focus area rather than location. This year, many current high schoolers were required to reapply in an effort to make sure they enroll in academies that fit their interests.

The district will host a showcase of schools to help parents and students with their selections. The showcase runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Indiana State Museum.

Stan Law, principal of Arlington High School now, will take over George Washington next year. (Arlington will close at the end of this year.) He said the new academies offer an opportunity for students to see what they need to master — from soft skills to knowledge — to get good jobs when they graduate.

“I want kids to really make the connection of the purpose of high school,” Law said. “It is that foundation for the rest of your life, in terms of the quality of life that you are going to live.”

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Stan Law

When the IT academy launches next year, students who select the program will be able to spend about one to two classes per year focused on information technology, said Ben Carter, who runs career and technical education for IPS.

Carter hopes the academies will reshape George Washington and other IPS campuses by connecting potential careers with the work students do everyday at school. Students who share a focus area will be in a cohort, and they will share many of the same core classes such as English, math and history, said Carter. Teachers, in turn, will be able to relate what students are studying in their history class to projects they are working on in the IT program, for example.

To show students what a career in information technology might look like, students will have the chance to tour, connect with mentors and intern at local companies.

“If I’m in one of these career classes — I’m in software development, but then I get to go to Salesforce and walk through and see the environment, to me as a student, that’s inspiring,” said Carter. “It’s like, ‘oh, this is what I can have.’ ”

He added. “It increases engagement but also gives them a true sense of what the career is.”