A broader vision for justice in our schools

June 27, 2019 — Leave a comment

MORE stands with parents, students, teachers, counselors, paraprofessionals, and all other UFT members who fight for the schools that all New Yorkers deserve. We need well-resourced environments designed to help young people flourish and learn from mistakes, while also providing a stable and manageable work environment for UFT members. 

Based on years of lobbying, parents and students with the Dignity in Schools Campaign in New York City fought for and won a reduction in maximum suspension length (from 180 days to 20 days in most cases) and an increase in unionized clinical staffing. In his public statement regarding the new policy, UFT President Michael Mulgrew chose to emphasize how students can be removed from the classroom. While we celebrate with the President the hiring of clinical social workers as an alternative to suspension and greater clarity on discipline procedures, we believe he missed an opportunity to publicly advocate for a larger vision of what New York City public schools could be, and we hope that he will push for more. Our schools arrest and suspend black and Latinx students at higher rates than white students. We believe that our union should address this racial disparity by continuing to challenge policies which produce unjust outcomes.

Frequent suspensions create disruption not only for students, but for all UFT members – teachers, counselors, paraprofessionals, and other support staff who work with them. When those students rejoin their peers, they need to make up lost instruction, a task that falls to teachers, not to the administration who decide to suspend them. Excessive suspensions place undue burden on parents to provide supervision for their children. This takes parents away from the central task of supporting their child’s education, and may make them resentful of school staff, which then makes our work even more difficult. 

Parents and students want more for themselves and their children – they want dignity in their schools, and so do the staff responsible for young people. UFT members know that often the way students are treated mirrors the way staff are treated. 

This is the time for UFT members and leadership to stand in alliance with parents and students to ask for even more support to create the schools we all deserve, including:

  • More guidance counselors, with maximum ratios guaranteed in the contract
  • Smaller class sizes
  • More special education services
  • Services for DREAMers and ELLS
  • Greater teacher diversity
  • Divest from police officers to ensure funding for other youth development supports

Ultimately, teachers know that the most important factors in a student’s success are those which teachers can’t directly control – family income, parental education, housing and food security, and immigration status among others. When our union fights for policies that improve the lives of all working class New Yorkers, including students, the enormous task of teaching becomes more manageable. 

In the short term, our union should fight for robust supports that keep young people in school with the help of unionized certified teachers and clinical staff. This builds the power of our union by adding more members, and by creating more stable school settings where teachers want to stay for the long haul. Now is the time to fight for more!

Mulgrew’s original statement:

Dear XXXXX,

Mayor Bill de Blasio, Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza and I announced an agreement earlier today that provides more clinical support for students struggling with behavior issues, ensures that suspensions are focused on the most serious cases of student infractions, and for the first time codifies the process by which teachers can have students removed from their classroom.

With this agreement, each school will be required to have — and enact — a plan of progressive student discipline, along with required training for the entire staff. In addition, the process for teachers to remove students from their classrooms — now poorly defined — will be clearly laid out.

The mayor and the chancellor also announced a new Memorandum of Understanding between the DOE and the NYPD that clarifies which student infractions should result in arrests or summonses and which should be dealt with by school safety agents and the school administration.

I am particularly pleased that today’s announcement recognizes what we have said for years — that educators need more access to trained personnel who can immediately deal with students in crisis. The new agreement includes the hiring of dozens of new clinical social workers, a resource we have sorely needed.

Hopefully, this new agreement will lead to a constructive and collaborative learning environment in more schools and classrooms next year.

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