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Education advocates from across New York call on Legislature to pass Solutions Not Suspensions bill

Khadijah Hussein speaks on her struggles as a BPS student
Thomas O'Neil-White
Khadijah Hussein speaks on her struggles as a Buffalo Public Schools student at Mt. Olive Baptist Church on Buffalo’s East Side Jan. 21, 2023.

Education advocates across the state rallied at Mt. Olive Baptist Church on Buffalo’s East Side Thursday, calling on the New York State Legislature to pass the Judith S. Kaye Solutions Not Suspensions Act this year. Any delay, they say, will be detrimental to school children across the state.

While suspensions are down in Buffalo Public Schools, Community Health Network of Buffalo Youth Trainer Khadijah Hussein said root causes for suspensions continue to unaddressed.

“I know what it feels like to be bullied,” said Hussein, who graduated from Buffalo Public Schools and has a sibling currently enrolled. “I know what it feels like to go through mental illnesses depression and stuff, anxiety, and feel like no one understands, especially going to school and trying to explain to your teachers that I couldn't sleep last night, or my parents were arguing this morning before I had to come to school, or just the reality of what a lot of us go through.”

The rally for the state legislature to sign the bill comes after the New York State Education Department’s January report recommending eliminating suspensions in grades pre-Kindergarten through third, and incorporating more restorative practices broadly in schools across the state.

Reducing punitive forms of punishment is also an issue of equity We The Parents member, said Sam Radford.

Sam Radford adresses education advocates at Mt. Olive Baptist Church
Thomas O'Neil-White
Sam Radford adresses education advocates at Mt. Olive Baptist Church

“For eight years we have fought at the state level to get a uniform set of standards to make suspensions a last resort through the Judith Kaye Solutions Not Suspensions Act,” he said. “Knowing that [suspensions] have a devastating consequences on Black and brown children, children with disabilities, low-income children and children who are LGBTQ+, but the Legislature has not acted.”

Many advocates said the shift to a more holistic, restorative approach to discipline is a cultural one and will take a collaborative effort from everyone; state legislature, NYSED, school leaders, parents, students and teachers and passing the Solutions Not Suspensions Act is an important first step.

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Thomas moved to Western New York at the age of 14. A graduate of Buffalo State College, he majored in Communications Studies and was part of the sports staff for WBNY. When not following his beloved University of Kentucky Wildcats and Boston Red Sox, Thomas enjoys coaching youth basketball, reading Tolkien novels and seeing live music.