School suspensions reach into hundreds

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There were 347 suspensions at the David A. Stein Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy, MS/HS 141 during the 2010-2011 school year. 

In 14 of those instances, students were required to leave school for 30 days. In seventh and eighth grades alone, there were 151 suspensions. More than 37 percent of them were doled out to special education students. RKA has an enrollment of 1,300 this year. 

Principal Lori O’Mara said administrators quickly address problems and hold their students to high standards. 

“We expect our students to behave and we apply consequences according to the chancellor’s discipline code,” she said. 

“I think we don’t look the other way when things happen. I think we address the issues as they are brought to us,” she added. 

DeWitt Clinton High School, which has about 4,000 students, followed a similar pattern in its lower grades. Overall, there were 333 suspensions, 175 of which were for students in eighth and ninth grades. 

Released for the first time this year by the United Federation of Teachers, the suspension data are a tally of how many times students were suspended last year. However, a source familiar with suspensions and the public school system said the numbers do not tell the whole story. 

The source emphasized that sometimes a small group of difficult students drive the number of suspensions up. The number could be very high due to 20 or so kids, the source said. 

Principals can decrease their suspension numbers by giving students detention or not properly reporting their discipline methods. Principals do this to in an effort to stay off the NYS Education Department’s infamous Persistently Dangerous Schools list, the source said. 

The list targets schools that have had a large of number serious incidents such as robbery, assault, homicide, possession and arson, all of which would result in suspensions.   

When a school makes the list (no local schools are currently on it), the Department of Education begins offering students a transfer program so they can go to a safer place. 

The source said schools with similar student populations should theoretically have comparable numbers

But on the John F. Kennedy campus, where most of the schools (with the exception of Kennedy) have an enrollment of around 450, the number of suspensions varied wildly.  

While Bronx Theatre High School racked up 140 suspensions last year and the Bronx School of Law and Finance reported 70, Bronx Engineering and Technology Academy reported only 11. John F. Kennedy High School  — by far the largest in the building with a current enrollment of more than 700 — reported 55 suspensions last year. 

Kim Sweet, executive director of Advocates for Children of New York, said, “the data is always only as good as the schools’ reporting methods.” 

“It’s possible that the data’s correct … or it’s possible that someone’s not entering all their data and it’s hard to know,” she said. 

Ms. Sweet also said that she thinks she has seen the number of elementary school suspensions increase.  

Most area elementary schools, including PS 7, PS 24, the Bronx New School, PS 51, PS 207, AmPark Neighborhood School, PS 344 and PS 360, had so few suspensions their data were not reported on the list. However, the Sheila Mencher Van Cortlandt School, PS/MS 95 recorded 151 suspensions last year, 28 percent of which were for students in special education. 

The Multiple Intelligence School, PS/MS 37 reported 31 suspensions and the Robert J. Christen School, PS 81, 22. 

Ms. Sweet said the Department of Education puts a lot of pressure on principals and that pressure, in turn, is passed along to students. 

“Schools are under a lot of pressure these days to perform and a child who is more difficult and taking a lot of teacher time, it’s very tempting to get rid of them,” she said. 

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