Judge Kaye: Everyone needs to be at the table
By: Denise M. Champagne//May 15, 2014
Judge Kaye: Everyone needs to be at the table
By: Denise M. Champagne//May 15, 2014//
The studies have been done, the data is in hand and now is the time to take action to adjust school disciplinary policies that keep kids out of school, sending many to the court system and jail.
Former New York Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye is hoping to break to the school-to-jail pipeline. She is sponsoring awareness and action programs throughout the state. On Wednesday, she convened the “Western Regional Leadership Summit on School-Justice Partnerships: Keeping Kids in School and Out of Court” at St. John Fisher College in Pittsford.
Judge Kaye wants to reduce harsh disciplinary procedures, often given for “minor misdeeds” that years ago would have sent students to the principal’s office, but now expels them from school or sends them to court.
“Now is the really the moment,” Judge Kaye said, praising Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo for establishing the Commission on Youth, Public Safety and Justice to develop a plan to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction and make other recommendations on how the state’s justice systems can improve outcomes for youth while promoting community safety.
Gazing out at the audience of about 200 educators, school administrators, psychologists, parents, students, judges, lawyers, social workers, probation officers and other stake holders, Judge Kaye said success will require everyone working together.
She mentioned this week marks the 60th anniversary of the groundbreaking U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, 347 US 483, which declared separate public schools for black children unconstitutional.
She said New York has its own Constitution, which has a section, Article 11, guaranteeing education.
She questioned whether the fundamental promise of education was being met and said she asked everybody to come together to give meaning to those words.
Judge Kaye said students must be held accountable, but must also learn from discipline and that all students should get the education they are constitutionally entitled to receive. That is not happening if they are kicked out of school for minor offenses.
“There is no more time to wait,” she said. “Let’s build on the good work that has been begun here.”
Judge Kaye was introduced by Judge Craig J. Doran, administrative judge of the eight-county Seventh Judicial District.
He asked members of the audience to keep pushing the judiciary to do what it needs to do to keep helping kids.
“Too often we spend too much time coming up with reasons why we can’t do something, instead of why we can,” he said, including everyone.
Judge Doran, a former state assemblyman who worked across the street from the Court of Appeals in Albany when Judge Kaye was chief judge, credits Judge Kaye with “rescuing” him from a life of politics and inspiring him to become a judge; telling him he could do more to change the world from the bench.
Judge Doran joked he only had three minutes to speak, most of which he spent praising Judge Kaye, whom he said has chosen to do devote her existence to making the lives of children and families better.
Judge Kaye quipped that maybe Judge Doran should have been allowed to speak for the whole 30 minutes or more. She said one of the highlights of her 25 years on the high court was visiting Judge Doran’s Canandaigua courtroom where she got to portray the jury foreperson in a re-enactment of the trial of Susan B. Anthony, held in the same courtroom in 1873.
Mary Adams, a member of the Rochester City School District Board of Education, talked about some recent changes locally, including an improved due process procedure and a comprehensive board review of in-school suspensions.
“We have much work to do,” she said, noting the district is in the process of transforming its code of conduct and last week passed a budget prioritizing alternative discipline procedures. She also said the district shares the commission’s belief that it can stop the flow of children into the criminal justice system.
The Permanent Judicial Commission on Justice for Children has been chaired by Judge Kaye since its founding in 1988. Judge Kaye also chairs the New York City School-Justice Partnership Task Force which she convened in 2011. Its report, “Keeping Kids in School and Out of Court,” released last May, shows a rising number of school suspensions and arrests in New York City schools while violence in schools was declining. The findings led to the summits.
Judge Kaye said more than 1,400 people have attended the six summits. The first was in October at New York Law School. There have been others in Latham, White Plains, Hempstead and Syracuse, leading to the final Western New York summit Tuesday.
She said the session would end with brainstorming on a model for the next steps, which included convening a school-justice task force and creating a roadmap and discussing the next steps for the community to ensure schools are safe for children to learn.
Will Keresztes, associate superintendent for educational services in the Buffalo Public Schools, said his district is still feeling the pain of the death of 15-year-old Jawaan Daniels, a high school freshman who was shot and killed in 2010 while waiting for a bus after being suspended from school.
Keresztes said it was a case of mistaken identity, but if Buffalo had not been so casual with its suspensions, Daniels would have been among the first to benefit from the Say Yes to Education program and could have been in college.
Keresztes said the top three things learned in Buffalo are getting the smartest people in the room and engaging the community which was outraged, but also brought in the national Advancement Project, a multi-racial civil rights organization; to take seriously a multi-tiered system of student support; and for those in power to back up their words.
He said that means not cutting needed staff, noting he added 11 social workers at a time when Buffalo schools were facing a $50 million deficit.
Keresztes told the educators in the room that at some point they would be entering the second phase of their careers, as he has. He said as they look back, they will find the only thing that matters is helping make justice for kids the thing they do.
“Think positively,” Judge Kaye said, offering to sing Johnny Mercer’s “Accentuate the Positive,” opting to speak it instead.
“It is so easy to be negative,” she said. “Push back is so easy. Let’s try to accentuate the positive; eliminate the negative. That’s what we really need to do to have a positive outcome.”
The afternoon included discussions on several different school programs and practices with break-out sessions for participates to brainstorm with the various speakers, ending with plans for action.
The summit was organized by Kathleen R. DeCataldo and Toni A. Lang, executive director and deputy director, respectively of the New York State Permanent Judicial Commission on Justice for Children, along with New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services: Thomas Andriola, director of policy and implementation and Jacquelyn Greene, counsel to the deputy secretary for public safety.
It was sponsored by the commission and DCJS with funding from The Atlantic Philanthropies, DCJS and the state Juvenile Justice Advisory Group.
“Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education to our democratic society. It is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities, even service in the armed forces. It is the very foundation of good citizenship. Today it is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment. In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.”
— former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (May 17, 1954).