Original Post – 10/16/23
Revised – 10/17/2023
Westchester Children’s Association Fall Breakfast Featured Renowned Educator Dr. Edward Fergus Discussing Data, Educational Policies, Advocacy, and Change
Westchester Children’s Association (WCA) hosted their annual Fall Advocacy Breakfast, titled “Youth Justice at a Crossroad: The Intersection of Data, Policy, and Advocacy” on October 11th. More than 100 area educators, county representatives and youth advocates were present to hear Dr. Edward Fergus talk about educational practices and the disconnect between the data, the policies and the outcomes.
“Data is critical to understanding what is going on in our schools, but it is just as critical to remember that each data point represents a child. Our theme this year is ‘children behind the numbers’ and Dr. Fergus clearly demonstrated this theme using real life examples of children falling through the cracks due to outdated policies and practices,” stated Allison Lake, Executive Director of Westchester Children’s Association. “We must ask ourselves if we are setting students up to thrive or fail. WCA has worked on youth justice and improvements to school codes of conduct with many across Westchester and we know first-hand that children and young people are negatively impacted by existing policies and legislation. We will continue to advocate for ‘Solutions Not Suspensions,’ she added.
In the 2023 legislative session, NYS Solutions Not Suspensions legislation obtained Assembly sponsorship and advanced with its drafted language. Regrettably, this bill faced challenges and was not officially recognized by the NYS government. Furthermore, two other crucial youth-justice-related legislative efforts, the Youth Justice and Opportunities Act and the Right to Remain Silent Youth Interrogation Bill, did not progress significantly during this legislative session.
WCA points out that the legislation aims to regulate suspensions to a last-resort response for student misbehavior, prioritizing alternative, restorative approaches that foster accountability and learning from mistakes. In New York, students lose hundreds of thousands of days in classrooms each year because of suspensions, often for normal youthful behavior. This disproportionately impacts Black and Latinx students, people with disabilities and LGBTQ+ youth. Importantly, the Solutions Not Suspensions bill would allow New York to take a big step away from the biased policies of the past.
Distinguished guest speaker, Dr. Edward Fergus, Urban Education and Policy Professor at Rutgers University, delivered an impactful and thought-provoking lecture, shedding light on ways to improve youth justice through a data-informed and policy-driven approach. He pointed out how data and discipline often over-represent disadvantaged students. He also addressed how bias shows up in nearly every interaction and that educators need to evaluate whether their own biases play a role in their communication with particular students. This Fergus warned can lead to the surveillance of kids in schools and the framing of their behavior as defiant or delinquent.
Dr. Edward Fergus, who has worked with over 120 school districts since 2004 on educational equity and school reform, presented data that underscored the theme of the breakfast and was supported by examples of school districts and student experiences that underscored the importance of rethinking old ways of addressing discipline and behavior issues for better outcomes. “Many schools are relying on outdated and often detrimental policies that have not been updated in decades. It is important to understand the data but even more important to understand the children and implement policies and practices that will support students rather than punish them. We need to be fixing systems, not fixing kids,” he stated.
Added 10/17/23 – As the demand for more comprehensive and effective youth justice legislation grows, Westchester Children’s Association projects that 2024 will be a pivotal year for advocacy in this area. The October advocacy breakfast emphasized the convergence of data, policy, and advocacy in driving more impactful legislative outcomes with specific regards to youth justice and the Solutions Not Suspensions legislation.
Supporters of the Solutions Not Suspensions bill are encouraged to go to bit.ly/SNS_Action to sign WCA’s online petition requesting passage of the bill.