Some are calling for Buffalo Public Schools to get rid of out of school suspensions in the district.
“If you have a problem in the school and you suspend a child out of the building, does that solve the problem?” said Duncan Kirkwood, a New York Education Trust Family Fellow.
The New York Equity Coalition reports 13.8 percent of Buffalo Public School students in the 2016-2017 school year had at least one out-of-school suspension. That’s the highest percentage of the so-called Big 4 school districts in the state, which includes the Rochester City School District, Syracuse City School District, and Yonkers Public Schools.
The study did not include New York City in the Big 4 because NYC imposes suspensions differently than most other school districts in the state.
“We all know that suspensions really put our children on a pathway to not graduating, to ending up in the criminal justice system,” said Kirkwood.
Education Trust and the Community Action Organization’s Better Schools Better Neighborhoods program are proposing BPS eliminate out-of-school suspensions for students in kindergarten through third grade who commit non-violent offenses.
The goal is to eventually get it implemented for grades K through 12. They want to replace that punishment with restorative practices, which allows for community organizations to come into the schools to help out the students.
“If a kid is in trouble, instead of suspending them out of school, you send them to go work with the community group, which is a group of mentors and coaches that can help them get back on track and motivate them to do well,” Kirkwood said.
Buffalo Board of Education at-large member Terrance Heard said this is something the district could possibly consider but in the meantime research has to be done.
“I’m all for no suspensions within the schools but you’ll also have to look at the values of the classroom, what types of education are you getting in the classroom,” he said. “We have kids with behavioral problems that are still in the classrooms, so it’s all kind of programs and things we need to look at and we need to do surveys on and look at the outcomes.”
Kirkwood said if the district goes through with implementing restorative practices, it has to commit to using them.
“It’s not easy for somebody to emotionally open themselves up to children and all the trauma that the children are coming up with, it’s a lot easier to push them out the room but what we’re saying is, these are our children and we need them to be supported in the schools, in the classrooms, no matter what they’re dealing with,” he said.
He hopes this is implemented at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year.