Push to reform NYC school suspensions over racial disparities

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- The practice of suspending students, sometimes for as long as six months, is facing new scrutiny after data shows racial disparity in how children are impacted.

"Being a mother of a Black son, just replaying George Floyd calling out for his mother for help, and she wasn't there, just made me think of my son saying to somebody, 'Understand me, please help me,'" mom Shadiatu Moustapha said.

With tears streaming down her face, Moustapha shared that her 6-year-old son has been suspended twice already this school year.

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He was given an individualized education plan after he was diagnosed with a sensory processing disorder.

"In a situation where he's aroused very easily, he may appear to be more impulsive," she said. "Rather than giving him the support, he has been punished....It's literally teaching my son at a very early age that if you're misunderstood or people choose not to support you, you will be punished."

New data from the US Department of Education shows that on average, Black students in New York City public schools missed more than twice the number of days due to suspension compared to white and Hispanic students.



"In a perfect world, it's let's get rid of suspensions altogether," said Stevie Vargas, with the Alliance of Quality Education.

She blames institutional racism for the disparity.

"We can see it with over-policing of our communities, we see it with the school-to-prison pipeline, and it's being reflected in our school system with the overuse of suspensions that are being adversely applied to Black and brown students," she said. "We know the longer a student is out of school, the less likely they are to return to school and graduate."

New York City has committed $12 million to restorative justice programs this year.

"Every single student deserves a caring, welcoming school and adults they can go to when they are in need," a spokesperson for New York City Department of Education said. "Making this a reality is a focus of this administration."

Advocates say that's not enough.

"$12 million is woefully deficient for what the city needs," said Dawn Yuster, with Advocates for Children of New York.

She, along with others, are pushing for the "Solutions Not Suspensions" bill in the state House and Senate.

"Right now, you can be suspended for up to 180 days," she said. "This would cap it at 20 days."

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It would also limit the ability for schools to suspend children in kindergarten through third grade.

It's a step in the right direction for parents like Moustapha.

"We can impact at least one person in the school system to say, maybe there's a different way," she said.

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