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A.G. Schneiderman Announces Agreement To Dismantle School To Prison Pipeline In Albany Schools

Agreement With the City School District of Albany Protects Access For All Students To Equal Educational Opportunities

A.G. Schneiderman: The School to Prison Pipeline Disadvantages the Most Vulnerable in Our Education System. It Must Be Closed

NEW YORK– Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced an agreement today with the City School District of Albany to ensure that the District’s discipline policies and practices do not discriminate on the basis of race, national origin or disability status.  With this Agreement, both the Attorney General and the City School District of Albany reaffirm their commitment to fostering safe and effective school climates.

"The school to prison pipeline prevents some of the most vulnerable children in our schools from obtaining the services they need to succeed both in and outside the classroom," said Attorney General Schneiderman.  "My office is committed to shutting down the pipeline, and ensuring that all children in New York have access to educational opportunities.”

In February of this year, the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau began investigating the administration of discipline policies in the City School District of Albany.  The investigation was a continuation of the Attorney General’s broader statewide initiative to reverse zero tolerance policies in school districts.  In Albany, the Bureau specifically reviewed the District’s policies and practices dating back to the 2009-10 school year for compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and state education law. 

The investigation of the City School District of Albany revealed that between the 2009-10 and 2013-14 school years, the District suspended an average of one in eight students out of school, and that students lost over 7000 days of school each year to short term suspensions.  Black students were far more likely to be suspended in the District, than their white peers.  Overall, Black students received suspensions at three times the rate of White Students.  In addition to the racial disparities, students with disabilities were also far more likely to receive suspensions as their counterparts without disabilities.  Between 2009-10 and 2013-14, students with disabilities were twice as likely to receive one suspension out of school as compared to students without disabilities, and three times as likely as those without disabilities to receive multiple suspensions in a school year.     

The District has made efforts, both before and after the Attorney General’s Office began its investigation, to address these statistical disparities.  For instance, the District made changes to its Code of Conduct, updated its procedures for ensuring due process for students in the discipline context, and began rolling out approaches to discipline that do not rely on exclusion.  However, the investigation revealed that these measures have yet to be consistently implemented across the District.  

Under the agreement between the District and the Attorney General, the parties will work together to reduce the use of exclusionary discipline, and to encourage the use of alternative approaches that ensure safety while promoting an effective learning environment.  The District will amend its policies to provide more clarity, and to ensure that the use of exclusion as a form of discipline is reduced.  In addition, the District agreed to create and expand existing programs that emphasize alternative approaches to discipline, including preventative techniques and additional supports for struggling students.  The District will also provide staff with additional training programs, and parents with opportunities to learn more and discuss the District’s policies.  Finally, the District will improve the data it records regarding discipline, and expand the manner in which it analyzes that data. 

To help implement the agreement the District will appoint an independent monitor.  The monitor will audit the District’s compliance with the Agreement and with state and federal laws periodically and report his or her findings to the Attorney General’s Office.    

“While this information is not new to us, we are grateful to the members of the Attorney General’s Office for their partnership in helping us move forward in our collective work to provide a safe, supportive learning environment for all of our students,” said City School District of Albany Superintendent Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard, Ph.D. “As a school district and as a community, we are more prepared than ever to come together to ensure that every student in every school has full access to high-quality academic and support programs, as well as caring, competent staff who have the skills they need to help each child succeed to her or his fullest potential.”

“On behalf of all of our students and families, the Board of Education is fully committed to providing every child in our community with the best possible education,” said Board President Ginnie Farrell. “We are confident that through the support and leadership of the Attorney General’s Office, and the dedication of our caring staff and community partners, we will continue to build a school district that will be a source of pride for all.”

"A successful quality education is the great equalizer for all students. The disciplinary disparities for black students and students with disabilities compared to white students and students without disabilities prevents equal access to this opportunity for success," said Carolyn McLaughlin, Albany Common Council President. " I am pleased to see that State Attorney General Schneiderman has taken steps to address this issue in the Albany City School District. I am encouraged that leadership in the Albany City School District has taken steps to address this disparate treatment of our students. Going forward I am confident all students will be able to enter school with a reasonable expectation that their educational activities will proceed in a safe and fair environment. Going to school should not make you susceptible to prison but rather set you on course for college as it is intended."

“Zero tolerance policies in the classroom are not only unjust, they are proven ineffective,” saidRosemary Rivera, Organizing Director of Citizen Action of New York. “We know overuse of suspensions increases dropout rates, and pushes kids into the juvenile justice system.  The Attorney General’s efforts in Albany should encourage other districts across the state to reform their policies to conform with the best interests of New York’s children.” 

“School districts that rely on exclusion as a form of discipline disproportionately burden the most vulnerable students, including those students with disabilities,” saidJennifer Monthie, Esq. Director PADD, PAAT, & PATBI Programs of Disability Rights New York. “This agreement provides those students much needed protection, and helps ensure that they have the opportunity to remain in school and succeed in the classroom."

The investigation was part of the Attorney General’s initiative to address issues related to school discipline across the state.  In July 2014, the Civil Rights Bureau and the Syracuse City School District agreed to reform that District’s discipline policies.  Since that agreement was signed, the District has reduced the number of office referrals, suspensions and arrests in its schools.  It has accomplished those reductions while creating new programs and policies to emphasize alternative approaches to discipline that do not rely on exclusion, by expanding programs for training teachers and reaching out to parents, and by improving its capacity to record and analyze student data. 

This matter was handled by Assistant Attorneys Generals Ajay Saini and Sandra Pullman of the Civil Rights Bureau. The Civil Rights Bureau is part of the Division of Social Justice led by Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice Alvin Bragg.

The Civil Rights Bureau of the Attorney General's Office is committed to promoting access to equal employment opportunities and combating discrimination for all New Yorkers. To file a civil rights complaint, contact the Attorney General’s Office at (212) 416-8250civil.rights@ag.ny.gov or visitwww.ag.ny.gov.  

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