Syracuse school district's disciplinary policies under investigation

Dec 6, 2013

The state attorney general is investigating disciplinary action policies within the Syracuse school district, and the school system says it's cooperating with his office.

On Friday, the school district's top administrator admitted there likely have been violations.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s civil rights office issued a subpoena to the Syracuse City School District on Oct. 16.

The school district has since turned over tens of thousands of documents so far, having to do with three years’ worth of student discipline and demographic data, according to superintendent Sharon Contreras.

The school board was told earlier this fall that more than half of African-American students in the school district have been suspended at least once.

"We expect that students will be given appropriate consequences because we will have safe and orderly schools in the Syracuse City School District," Contreras said at a news conference Friday afternoon. "We are committed to places where teachers can teach and students will learn."

The attorney general received numerous complaints, probably from parents, Contreras speculated. She said there likely have been violations surrounding the "due process" of student discipline.

"We’re not talking about major infractions and I think that’s where some of the misperceptions are coming from," she said.

The attorney general’s office declined to comment on the investigation and the teacher’s union did not respond to a request for comment.

The school district recently hired an expert, Dan Losen of the UCLA Civil Rights Project, to overhaul its disciplinary polices. Contreras said they’ve made significant improvements already.

"What we’re trying to improve is making sure we’re not issuing out of school suspensions for minor infractions," she said.

She said the number of disciplinary actions handed down has gone up in schools in low-income areas, but wouldn’t name specific ones.