State Regent Collins: Suspensions of black students a critical area of concern

Dec 12, 2018

New York State Regent Catherine Collins, who represents the Western New York region, is calling for more intervention to help districts better handle suspensions of black students. A statewide report on student suspensions was issued earlier this week. WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley says Collins is calling it a "critical area" of concern. 

"What is so disheartening is the fact that we have the highest rate in the state of New York,” said Collins.

Collins pointing to the high suspension rates for black students in New York Equity Coalition report. The findings are from 2016-2017 school year. Nineteen percent of black students in Buffalo Public schools were suspended and 28 percent in the Niagara Falls City School District. 

Collins called for action at this week's Board of Regents sessions.

“I think our communities and our parents out there need to know about the suspensions and what it means for kids not to be in school because if you’re not in school. You can’t learn. How are you going to graduate?,” asked Collins.

The Every Student Succeeds Acts (ESSA) allows closer monitoring of suspensions. The state Board of Regents is considering new state-wide regulations to hold districts more accountable for the number of ‘out-of-school’ suspensions.

Inside a classroom at West Hertel in Buffalo.
Credit WBFO News file photo

“We just put together our budget request that we will be sending over to the legislature and hoping that they fund the things that we need,” Collins said. “I was able to bring up the fact that we need more intervention, not less. We need more of the money coming in and we also need to monitor these schools, not just in Buffalo, but across the state, who have high suspension rates.”

Collins said the Board also accepted a grant from the Bill Gates Foundation. The funding will allow the mointoring of suspension rates and able to look at how it is communicated communities.

The Buffalo School District says this has been a "long-standing issue" but this year suspensions are "trending downward." It is using a number of programs district-wide to prevent suspensions such as Responsive Teaching, Trauma-informed Care and Restorative Practices.

In the Niagara Falls City School District, schools Superintendent Mark Laurrie says his district has a Restorative Justice counselor that works with students and implements other methods.

“One would be the Saturday youth court where a student, who commits an infraction to the ‘code of conduct’ goes before a jury of his or her peers and they dictate what the punishment should be, what the consequences should be and those consequences can range from anything to an apology letter, a community services period of time," Laurrie explained.

Regent Collins tells WBFO  she plans to meet in a few weeks with the Buffalo Schools superintend and school board president to plan even more strategies.   

“We’re going sit down and plan some additional strategies in terms of how some of My Brothers Keeper monies can be used to put in place some really good programs, programs that if we start them and see success that we give them sustainability, as well.”