Buffalo School District officials, along with parents and community advocates, deserve credit for sticking with the long effort to devise a new code of conduct for students. The code, unanimously approved by the School Board Tuesday, should improve discipline and help keep students in the classroom.
No more out-of-school suspensions for such things as truancy, cheating, cutting class, smoking and dress code violations. Instead, responses to such misbehavior will be designed to end the behavior, rather than simply punish it.
This approach focuses on identifying the underlying issues that may have caused a student to misbehave. It provides support to address those issues and details the appropriate level of response for each type of misconduct.
The new 70-page “Standards for Community-wide Conduct and Intervention Supports” marks the first major overhaul of the code in 20 years.
Work on the document was spurred by the death of Jawaan Daniels, who was fatally shot as he waited for a bus one afternoon shortly after he was suspended from Lafayette High School for wandering the halls.
The young man’s death nearly three years ago sparked community outcry over the huge number of out-of-school suspensions and the cavalier way in which such punishments were meted out. More than 1,000 students were receiving an out-of-school suspension every month in the Buffalo Public Schools. Nearly one in five students received an out-of-school suspension each year, compared to the statewide average of one in 20. Clearly, something had to be done.
Following heated public meetings, some of the district’s strongest critics began working with officials in developing a better code. School principals also worked on fine-tuning the specifics.
The result is what any district official should want, a progressive approach with different tiers of disciplinary responses. Strategies include such things as seating changes, writing letters of apology, parent notification, peer mentoring and conflict resolution. Suspensions have not been eliminated; administrators will still have that tool available. And violence, especially involving older students, will still be a law enforcement matter.
The Alliance for Quality Education and Citizens Action had high praise for the new code.
“Buffalo is providing leadership that more school districts across New York need to follow by adopting a progressive code of conduct focused on keeping students in school and solving problems,” said Billy Easton, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education.
The district received help from the Advancement Project, a racial justice civil rights organization based in Washington, D.C. One of its staff attorneys, Jason Sinocruz, commented: “I can confidently say with today’s vote, Buffalo becomes a national model to end the school-to-prison pipeline.”
That is perhaps more than could have been envisioned a few short years ago.