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Homeless students miss an average of 20 school days a year, making
them less likely than other children to be on grade level and more
likely to drop out of school.
They are also more likely to be suspended, according to a new report from the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness, causing them to miss an average nine additional days of instruction. In all, that’s almost six weeks of class time lost.
More than 111,500 New York City students were homeless at some point last year, whether they were staying in a shelter, in a hotel or with family or friends.
The report focuses on 102 middle schools that had high rates of suspensions during the 2015-6 school year, which it calls suspension hubs. It found that homeless students at those schools were even more likely than their classmates to be suspended, and when they were, the punishments were more severe, including for similar infractions. At suspension hubs, 14 percent of homeless students were suspended that year, compared with 9 percent of their classmates who lived in more stable circumstances.
At Frederick Douglass Academy II in Manhattan, which includes a middle school and a high school, 36 percent of homeless students were suspended during the 2015-6 school year, compared with 22 percent of students with stable housing. The study found that students staying in shelters and black children were more likely to be suspended.
At the 102 schools, 22 percent of homeless black boys were suspended.
During the 2015-6 school year, the citywide suspension rate for middle schools was 4 percent. For homeless middle school students citywide, it was 7 percent.
“This report is another indicator of what’s happening with homeless children,” said Ralph da Costa Nunez, chief executive of the Institute for Children. “These kids are dropping out at much higher rates than regular students. They’re being suspended. They’re repeating grades. It’s almost becoming a death sentence for their future.”
The upheaval of homelessness means those children are often anxious and traumatized, and that their parents are as well. Many of them travel long distances from where they sleep to school in the morning, leaving them exhausted before the day begins. Drained and frightened, they bring all of that with them to school.
The de Blasio administration has made it a priority in recent years to reduce suspensions in city schools, pushing schools to use what are called restorative techniques that encourage people in conflict to talk through their differences. During the 2014-5 school year, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s first full school year in office, suspension rates fell 17 percent.
That trend abruptly reversed itself recently, though. The education department notified the City Council in March that suspensions jumped 21 percent during the last six months of 2017. The department said that in response to that bump, it gave additional training to certain schools, in areas like de-escalation, and the rise slowed considerably.
“We are committed to meeting the unique needs of students in temporary housing, which is why we have invested in more social workers in schools and trainings for staff in de-escalation and therapeutic crisis intervention,” Miranda Barbot, an education department spokeswoman, said in a statement. “We remain laser-focused on addressing the root causes of conflict and behavioral concerns for students in temporary housing.”
According to the education department, Frederick Douglass II has had an additional full-time social worker since last year, and the parent coordinator has attended training on how to better support homeless families. The school has had a mental health clinic on site since the 2015-6 school year.
The department said that during the 2016-7 school year, homeless students accounted for 13 percent of all suspensions, relatively flat when compared to the previous school year.
“If the new chancellor really wants to make a difference, to make a real mark, this is one place to start,” Dr. Nunez said of the city’s new schools leader, Richard A. Carranza, who started the job last week. “One hundred and ten thousand kids is no joke.”
By Elizabeth A. Harris
11 April 2018