New York City Schools Get New Disciplinary Guidelines Encouraging Counseling

New York City schools are adopting a more tolerant approach to discipline. Specifically, the new set of guidelines – which are updated every year prior to commencement of classes in the fall – will eliminate punishments that require removal from classes for most infractions, and will instead encourage administrators and teachers to provide students with counseling as well as offer protection for special needs students.

Margie Feinberg, the district’s spokeswoman, said that the new rules are not only supposed to create a school environment better suited to academics, but will also allow Department of Education officials to gain insight into causes of misbehavior by attaching a specific code to identify student harassment of other students that is motivated by bias.

The agency’s disciplinary standards were overhauled by educators during the 2012-13 school year, and parents and students weighed in on them at a June public hearing.

One significant change to the code states that counseling and mediation “must be considered” by school staffers when students engage in misconduct.

The new rules also contain a separate disciplinary category for instances of harassment which are motivated by bigotry, making it easier to start a paper trail on schoolyard bullies, officials explained.

Yet another change will compel principals and administrators to consider the medical diagnoses of students with disabilities who violate school rules.

The disciplinary guidelines traditionally gave administrators the final say on the kind of punishment the students can be assigned. However, this set of changes will mandate that staff at least consider measures that include counseling and other approaches that minimize bullying in the hallways and in the classrooms.

Ben Shuldiner, a former school principal and a current education professor at Hunter College, believes that that the changes will improve outcomes for both teachers and students and provide enough room for students’ disability status to play a role in determining how to deal with misbehavior.

However, there are some who feel that district officials didn’t go far enough.

But some advocates said the reforms fell short by failing to mandate the use of counseling or other positive interventions for all student disciplinary cases.

“It’s a missed opportunity,” said Jamie Koppell, a member of the New York Chapter of the Dignity in Schools Campaign.