New York

Advocates warn Mayor Adams eying cut to NYC’s school restorative justice programs

A coalition of 60 advocacy groups is sounding the alarm that Mayor Adams’ administration is weighing a plan to “dismantle” a long-running effort to train New York City schools in a less-punitive approach to student discipline.

“Restorative justice,” an approach that encourages misbehaving students to repair the harm they’ve caused instead of meting out suspensions and expulsions, was a priority of former Mayor de Blasio’s administration. A citywide office dedicated to training and supporting schools in the technique got a budget of $20 million last year, thanks in part to a big influx of federal stimulus money, advocates said.

But there’s been little public accounting of how last year’s allocation was spent, say advocates who claim there are now discussions underway about drastically reducing the program’s budget in the coming years.

“Behind closed doors, the Adams administration is pursuing a dangerous plan to dismantle school-based restorative justice initiatives,” wrote the Dignity in Schools Campaign, a coalition of dozens of advocacy groups that have pushed to expand the initiative.

“This is a concerted attempt to return schools back to a Bloomberg-era of zero-tolerance and hyperpolicing,” the group continued.

Of the more than $20 million De Blasio’s administration allocated to restorative justice over the past school year, $12 million was supposed to come from federal COVID-19 relief funds, according to advocates.

But there’s been little transparency about how that money was spent, advocates said. A report from Comptroller Brad Lander found that as of March, the DOE had spent less than $1 million of the $12 million in federal funds. DOE officials did not provide further details on how last year’s restorative justice money was spent.

The initiative was slated to get $15 million in federal funds each of the next two years under de Blasio’s plan to expand to all middle and high schools, according to the Independent Budget Office. But advocates claim that funding is now “at risk,” saying the DOE is weighing a proposal to slash it dramatically.

DOE spokeswoman Suzan Sumer acknowledged the administration is still “in the process of setting priorities for the upcoming year,” but said “reprioritization does not necessarily mean a reduction in school support funding.”

“Our school support programming empowers students to be active members of their school communities, equips educators with the tools necessary to prevent conflicts before they arise and encourages young people to build strong relationships and to make healthier choices,” she added.

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