AFT Lobbies to Suspend Kids

April 4, 2001 

New Rules Give Teachers More Power


For the first time, teachers in New York City will have the power to remove disruptive students from their classrooms for up to four days under regulations that Chancellor Harold O. Levy is to present to the Board of Education today. 

The changes, which Mr. Levy said did not require board approval, are in response to a state law, passed last July, that stiffened disciplinary measures in public schools throughout the state. That law, pushed by the state and city teachers' unions, also increased penalties for sexual harassment and for violence against teachers.

But in New York City, the most significant change could be the new authority given to teachers to temporarily remove unruly students. Currently, a teacher's last resort against disruptive students is to send them to the principal's office. The principal has the power to suspend them, but only if they have committed such serious offenses as fighting or vandalism. More often, disruptive students are simply returned to the classroom after a few hours at most.

Mr. Levy and Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers, said yesterday that the change was crucial because teachers needed more power to discipline students who constantly misbehaved.

"This is serious stuff that will give teachers more control over their environments," Mr. Levy said in an interview. "It's important for them to have as many tools as possible to exercise authority in their classrooms and to command respect."

Under the new regulations, which are to take effect in September, teachers will have to follow a formal process in removing disruptive students from the classroom for up to four days. Those students will be sent to "alternative instructional settings," either in their school or at another site in the school district. Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani set aside $19 million in his budget proposal for these "in-school suspension centers."

Teachers will have to try less severe means of addressing a student's disruptive behavior before removing the student from the classroom, according to the regulations. Those means might include having a conference with the student or calling his or her parents, board officials said. If those strategies fail, teachers can tell their principal that they want to remove the student temporarily. Principals can intervene and stop a removal, but only if they can prove that the student's behavior did not substantially disrupt the class, the board officials said.

Under the new rules, a student may be removed from the classroom up to three times in a school year. If there is a fourth episode of disruptiveness, the student will automatically be suspended, board officials said. The changes come at a crucial time in New York City, because the Board of Education is planning to place all but the most severely disabled special education students into regular classrooms over the next few years. The teachers' union, anticipating an increase in behavior problems, has been pressing for a stricter discipline policy that will give teachers more power to deal with those problems.

Board officials acknowledged that the regulation allowing teachers to remove disruptive students was created partly with the mainstreaming of special education students in mind. But they also said that many disabled students could be exempt from the rule because federal law spelled out exactly how such students could be disciplined. 

The new regulations, which will be the subject of a public hearing before Mr. Levy makes them official, will also increase the number of infractions that merit suspension. A long list of such infractions already exists, ranging from pulling fire alarms to hitting teachers to taking guns to school. But the new state law, which all the state's school districts must comply with as of July 1, adds vandalism and threatening to use "any instrument that appears capable of causing physical injury" against a faculty member or student. 

The new law also requires New York City to expand its definition of fighting that merits suspension to include all "physically aggressive behavior" that seriously disrupts a class, board officials said. 

At the same time, the regulations will make it harder to transfer chronically disruptive students from one school to another, a longtime practice that has been criticized by student advocates as ineffective. Under orders from the state, the Board of Education is increasing the number of hearings and appeals to which students fighting such transfers are entitled. More than 4,000 suspended high school students were forced to transfer in the 1998-99 school year, according to the board. 


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