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Special Needs Students Being Suspended At Higher Rates Than Other Students, Statistics Show

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City principals are suspending students much less frequently than they were a few years ago, but some types of students are still being suspended much more than others. NY1's Lindsey Christ filed the following report.

The principal at Susan Wagner High School on Staten Island gave out 317 student suspensions last year. Of them, 200 were to students with special needs.

At M.S. 22 in the Bronx, the principal suspended students 164 times, and 92 times, that student had a disability.

On the Upper West Side, 88 of the 163 suspensions that the M.S. 54 principal gave out last year went to a student with special needs.

At these schools, special education students make up 9 to 17 percent of the population. Yet they landed more than half of the suspensions.

According to NY1's analysis of Department of Education data, there were at least 40 schools where the majority of suspensions last year went to students with diagnosed disabilities.

"I think the disproportionality is a huge cause to concern, and my hope would be that it's a red flag to the Department of Education to get into these schools and really figure out what's going on," said Kim Sweet of Advocates for Children of New York.

Citywide, 34 percent of suspensions last year went to students with special needs, though they make up just 12 percent of the population. Although the overall suspension rate has dropped significantly in the past three years, the proportion of special needs suspensions has gone up.

How schools accommodate students with special needs has become an even greater concern, since the city implemented system-wide special education reforms last year with the goal of integrating special needs students into every school and every general classroom as much as possible.

NY1 asked the DOE if it was looking at the high rate of suspensions within special education. In response, a spokesperson said, "We are providing professional development to schools to address this."

"Of course, schools can't totally do this on their own," Sweet said. "They need support from elsewhere to be able to meet the needs of kids, and some kids have fairly substantial needs."

Because of privacy laws, NY1 doesn't know why individual students were suspended or what their disabilities are, but it is against federal law to suspend a student for behavior directly related to his or her special needs.

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