Syracuse School District Officials go to White House to Discuss Discipline and Suspensions

Jul 24, 2015

Henninger High School Principal Rob DiFlorio attended "Rethink School Discipline" at the White House this week.
Credit submitted SCSD

  Henninger High School’s principal is just back from a summit at the White House on school discipline.  Rob DiFlorio joined Syracuse City School District Superintendent Sharon Contreras and other school officials to share experiences about suspensions, which are on a dramatic rise nationwide.

“We’ve realized, and the research has been very supportive, suspensions don’t really change students’ behavior.  What can we do to change students’ behavior and maintain safe schools.” 

Di Florio says the Attorney General was behind the Rethink School Discipline summit…and noticed Syracuse, along with Rochester and Buffalo are among districts handing out more suspensions.  Nationwide three (M) Million students were held out of school for disciplinary reasons.  DiFlorio was glad to share experiences and hear what might be working elsewhere.

“I think the fact that the White House actually brought practitioners in -- not just people at the federal level or who work in state education departments, but teachers and principals, to hear from us -- says a lot that the federal government is willing to listen and begin to understand the complexities of the problem.”

One focus is on something called ‘restorative justice’, which Syracuse is trying to implement.

“This is the idea or notion that the student has to repair the relationship or the harm that they’ve done in order to correct the behavior.  Consequences and disciplinary action still take place, but what they try to do is establish these restorative practices so that the behavior doesn’t recidivate.”

He says there was also attention given to root causes of bad behavior, such as poverty and mental health issues.  

Syracuse has a new disciplinary policy, brought on in part because of higher suspension rates.  DiFlorio says the officials at the White House summit wanted to know from those at the school level how the federal government could help.