‘Stop pushing us out of school’: New York City students protest overzealous discipline

Over a hundred school students rallied Wednesday afternoon on the steps of Tweed Courthouse in Lower Manhattan in support of peers they say are in danger of being left behind.

Hosted by Make the Road New York, students from all across the Big Apple joined together in one collective voice on Feb. 23 to demand that children who face conflict in the school not be undeservingly suspended, but instead, be afforded greater understanding and the ability to resolve issues in the classroom. 

According to students who have undergone disciplinary action and advocates fighting to end unnecessary suspensions, a disproportionate number of students who are removed from school are Black and Brown, and the practice makes applying for college particularly hard, perpetuating a pipeline that leads to crime and incarceration.

Advocates urged state legislature to invest in children’s futures and not take them away. Photo by Dean Moses

“We really care about making our schools better. Even though our schools keep trying to push us out and keep trying to criminalize us, we keep fighting to transfer them into places that welcome us because we know that’s what we deserve. But as long as suspensions and strict discipline policies are the first response, we will not feel welcome in school,” Julia Davis said, a high-school senior from the Bronx.

Students like Steven, a Long Island high schooler, told onlookers that the one and only suspension he faced has been like a black cloud haunting him. He says that when he was removed from school and his friends, he not only fell behind in academia, but he also couldn’t apply to colleges, preventing him from being the first person in his family to seek higher education.

Students yelled in support of the bill. Photo by Dean Moses
Many advocates say suspensions create a pipeline that leads to prison. Photo by Dean Moses

“During this COVID 19 pandemic. My classmates and I have returned to school with trauma, anxiety and grief and it is extremely unfair that we all have that. We still have to face the threat of suspension and being excluded from our school community. Suspended students are three times more likely to drop out than peers who have never been suspended, pushing us into school to a prison and the deportation pipeline,” Steven said. “Passing solutions not suspensions would mean that students will not have to go through the same traumas that I have been through and suffered.”

The Solutions Not Suspensions Act would require schools to utilize alternatives to suspension that correct misbehavior and keep kids in the classroom, as well as limiting the use of suspensions for kindergarten-aged children and shorten the maximum length of suspension from 180 down to 20 school days.

Senator Robert Jackson is a staunch advocate for the bill and joined the youth to lend his support for their demand to pass it this year. With raised fists, he applauded the young people for their advocacy and for standing up for their peers.

Senator Robert Jackson. Photo by Dean Moses

“Current suspension policies negatively impact the education of many students in our state. Excessive suspensions harm children, making them more likely to be incarcerated as adults and less likely to attend a four-year college. At this critical moment, we need policies that promote emotional well-being, help heal, and don’t perpetuate practices that have disproportionately harmed a student’s path forward. This bill solves many problems relating to excessive suspensions and contributes to ending the schools to prison pipeline, significantly helping the children of our state succeed,” Senator Jackson said.

The students held signs and chanted,  “Solutions and Suspensions” as they looked to garner addition to their cause.

“Stop pushing us out of school. “Photo by Dean Moses