Since the release of Dreams Deferred in 2013, WCA’s Connecting Youth workgroup has worked on remedies to re-engage youth disconnected from work and school. The report recommends districts, “reduce exclusionary/disciplinary and suspension practices in school and encourage restorative practices”. Student Advocacy, which provided an appendix to the report, has worked diligently with school districts and communities to make this happen.
In addition, the GPS4Kids Collective Impact initiative seeks to highlight policies and practices that contribute to positive learning environments, improved youth/adult relationships, and race equity. With a commitment to collaboration among all youth-serving adults and agencies, WCA ally and GPS stakeholder, Karen Blumenthal (of Student Advocacy), offered thoughts on the new Yonkers Code of Conduct in respect to the GPS goal.
As the Policy Advocate at Student Advocacy, I always say to people that creating systemic change is a long and challenging process. This was certainly true for a group of stakeholders who served on the Yonkers Code of Conduct Workgroup.
Dr. Fred Hernandez, the Hearing Officer in the Yonkers Public School District, was the group’s facilitator. Most importantly, he was a ferocious advocate for changing the old Code of Conduct. Why? It just wasn’t working for Yonkers students, he repeatedly reminded us, as not enough of them made it to the finish line and graduated from the district.
The New Code of Conduct
On October 18, 2017, the Yonkers Board of Education adopted the new Code of Conduct. And while there is further editing work to be done, this Code reflects a critical shift. The old Code was a Punitive Discipline Guide. The new Code is a Conduct Guide that seeks to
- Prevent problems by creating a positive climate.
- Identify the roles of all key partners: students, parents, school staff.
- Address inappropriate behavior through restorative and solutions oriented responses.
That is huge!
Let me briefly tell you why I am so excited about the new Code:
- The introduction contains the five Guiding Principles which together emphasize: student engagement in a positive school environment; the promotion of social and emotional well-being; adult modeling of respectful behavior; a graduated system of responses to inappropriate behavior that holds individuals accountable, but is restorative and solutions oriented; and maximizing the amount of time students spend learning and minimizing the amount of time lost due to classroom removal and suspensions.
- Three very important components for students and parents of the new Code are a robust list of Student and Parent Rights and Responsibilities, a totally new student-oriented section, “Students, Do You Need Help with a Problem?”, and a totally new parent-oriented section, “Parents as Partners.”
- The District has made a firm commitment to use Restorative Practices, which are designed to help students learn from their mistakes; understand why their behavior was inappropriate; acknowledge the harm they cause or the negative impact of their actions; understand what they could have done differently; take responsibilities for their actions; and learn pro-social strategies and skills to use in the future.
- A commitment is made to reducing and severely limiting suspensions for children in prekindergarten through the 2nd grade, with the ultimate goal of completely eliminating them in those grades.
- An alphabetical list of inappropriate behaviors and the specific levels of response to each behavior is presented in an informative grid. An effort was made to apply only Level 1 and Level 2 responses to behaviors that do not seriously impact school and classroom safety nor present an imminent threat of serious harm, such as: attendance issues; disruptive behavior in classrooms, hallways and cafeterias; most disrespectful behaviors; and dress code violations.
Yes, Creating Systemic Change is Hard But…
The Code of Conduct workgroup spent more than 18 months on the new Code. Yes, creating systemic change is a long and challenging process, but will be well worth all the time and effort if a real change from a punitive process to a restorative, solutions-oriented process results in Yonkers schools. I will welcome joining Dr. Hernandez when many more students receive their diplomas at graduation!