New York City Public Schools Chancellor David Banks has unveiled a strategy to combat antisemitism and islamophobia within the nation’s largest school district.
This strategy comes in response to a surge in discrimination and hate crimes against both Jewish and Muslim communities since early October.
As part of these changes, NYC students who engage in misconduct will now face tangible consequences.
Banks declared on Monday, January 22nd, at the Department of Education’s Lower Manhattan headquarters that his administration is set to provide comprehensive retraining for all principals on the effective implementation of the discipline code.
He emphasized the goal of achieving a balanced approach, which not only enforces discipline but also offers students opportunities to learn and grow from their errors.
Banks stated, “These trainings are important because I’ve heard that some of our school principals feel disempowered from taking meaningful disciplinary action against egregious student behavior, even in clear-cut, common sense cases.”
Chancellor Banks, drawing on his extensive experience in various educational roles and as a parent, underlined the importance of finding the right balance in disciplinary actions.
“From my years as a school safety officer, a teacher, a principal, and perhaps most importantly, as a parent in raising four children of my own, I know that it is possible — and critical — to find a balance when it comes to discipline, to provide both restorative conversations as well as tangible consequences,” he elaborated.
The heightened concerns prompting these changes stem from recent global events, including the war in Gaza and terror attacks in Israel. These events have had a profound impact on some local school communities in NYC.
Among the incidents leading to this policy shift was a social media controversy over a map used in an Arab art class at P.S. 261 in Boerum Hill, which labeled the region as Palestine, omitting Israel.
Banks also referred to a protest at Hillcrest High School, targeting a Jewish teacher who attended a pro-Israel rally, as “deeply concerning.”
He said, “We cannot have schools where students feel like they can do whatever they want, without accountability for their actions.”
The administration’s new policy marks a departure from the more progressive discipline policies of former mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, which focused on reducing punitive measures in favor of dialogue and self-reflection.
The updated trainings, starting in the coming weeks, aim to empower school administrators in making disciplinary decisions.
Henry Rubio, president of the principals union, supported Banks’ stance, emphasizing the need for school leaders to have the trust and autonomy to make decisions in the best interest of their schools and communities.
“While we can — and should — expose students to a variety of viewpoints, we must leave our personal viewpoints at home. Our job is to educate, not to indoctrinate,” said Banks.
The school system is also accelerating investigations into allegations of antisemitism and islamophobia, working closely with various Jewish and Muslim nonprofits. An interfaith advisory council, still in formation, will be chaired by Reverend Jacques DeGraff, known for his involvement with Eagle Academy.