Public Education is a Lie: The campaign to end school suspensions

By the Racial Justice Working Group

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When members of the NYC-DSA Racial Justice Working Group (RJWG) wanted to get a better understanding of the school-to-prison pipeline in NYC, we knew we had to start by looking at racial injustice within our deeply segregated public schools. We, sadly, were not surprised to learn that black students in NYC receive long-term suspension five times more often than white students, and hispanic students receive them nearly two and a half times as often. What was surprising to many of us in the RJWG was this simple fact: for a single infraction a student can be suspended for 180 days - that’s one full school year - at the discretion of the superintendent. One mistake or bad decision that rubs an administrator the wrong way and a student can be told to go home and start over next year. They are told, in effect, that their “right” to a public education was actually a privilege all along. They are segregated from their school community and told it is not their place.

As socialists, we know that our education system is not truly socialized so long as children of color are being systematically denied access to it. That’s why we’re teaming up with Organizing for Equity NY to demand a 20-day cap on school suspensions (with a long-term vision of no school suspensions at all), as well as comprehensive funding for implementing alternative de-escalation practices that support teachers and students, rather than asking teachers to criminalize students.

To win these goals, we need the Chancellor, the Mayor, and the City Council on board. In February, de Blasio is likely to announce his budget proposal, which will soon be followed by the City Council’s budget proposal. We must make sure that these budget proposals include sufficient funding to enable schools to successfully replace suspension with practices and resources that treat students with care rather than treating them as problems to eliminate. After the new budget is passed, Chancellor Carranza will likely submit a potential revision to the NYC DOE Discipline Code - in which he has the power to finally cap school suspensions.

NYC-DSA RJWG and Organizing for Equity NY plan to pressure these decision-makers both directly and indirectly. We’re starting with a petition that will be publicly delivered to both the Chancellor and the Mayor. For many of us, this has been some of the easiest canvassing we have ever experienced - our neighbors by and large already agree that public education should be truly universal are eager to demand justice for black and brown students. We’re also working to leverage the Public Advocate election, because we believe that if anyone claims to speak for the people, they should be talking about this issue. As our campaign progresses, we plan to escalate our tactics to make sure that every politician knows they are accountable on this issue.

Of course, the United Federation of Teachers is a powerful factor. As in other unions, there’s risk that leadership will bulldoze over the passions of the rank and file. If the recent strike wave has proven anything, it is that when teachers stand in solidarity with their students, the world listens. With that in mind, we are working with some of our comrades in the Socialist Teachers Caucus to develop strategy to push the UFT for its support.

We believe we can win this campaign and strike a blow to the racist school-to-prison pipeline in time for the next school year - but we won’t be able to do that without the involvement of more NYC-DSA members. RJWG remains one of the smallest working groups in NYC-DSA. But we know that white-supremacy is both antithetical to socialism, and one of the most powerful tools capitalism has to guard itself. So if you’re itching to fight back with us, here are 3 easy steps you can take:

First:  sign the petition.

Second:  sign up for a canvass (and sign up your friend).

Third: come to our next Racial Justice Working Group meeting!