New suspension/expulsion stats confirm use of discipline alternatives

by Kristi Garrett, staff writer

The report that suspensions are down in California schools is welcome news to educators, students and their families—and a focus on alternative disciplinary strategies is getting the credit. A reduction in the number of actions for willful defiance (called student defiance in the official report) and a shift to programs like restorative justice that promote respect and personal responsibility have helped reduce expulsions by 12.3 percent and suspensions by 14.1 percent during 2012-13, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced last week.

Overall, suspensions dropped from a high of 709,596 incidents involving 366,629 students in 2011-12, to 609,471 suspensions involving 329,142 students  in 2012-13. Statewide, the total number of expulsions decreased from 9,758 in 2011-12 to 8,562 in 2012-13.

The number of African-American students suspended dropped 9.5 percent, to 53,187. The gender of the students involved was not disclosed, however, and suspension of young African-American men in particular continues to be of concern to educators.

Suspensions of Hispanic students were down 10.2 percent, to 179,867 – but still involved the greatest number of students in any one ethnic group. By comparison, 68,913 white students were suspended in 2012-13, a decrease of 10.8 percent.

Student defiance, also known as “willful defiance,” is still a common reason for students to be suspended, although the number of suspensions for defiance dropped by 23.8 percent.  Removing misbehaving students from the classroom so others can learn may have been in vogue in years past, but since the No Child Left Behind Act made schools responsible for the achievement of every child, denying students access to instruction for offenses as slight as wearing a baseball cap or rolling their eyes no longer has widespread support.

Instead, many school districts are instituting programs to teach students to examine and strengthen their relationships, take responsibility for their actions and promote respect. The Oakland Unified School District’s restorative justice program, as outlined in this California Schools story from 2012, is being reproduced in various forms around the state. Los Angeles, Vallejo City, Napa Valley and other school districts cited in the CDE press release on suspension data have seen similar drops in the use of suspension and expulsion after adopting a restorative justice program. Still, “the rates remain troubling,” said Torlakson.

Advocacy groups like Public Counsel have organized a Fix School Discipline with LCFF webinar from 10:30 a.m. to noon on Wednesday, Feb. 19, which will feature tools to help parents and community members contribute to local strategies for improving school climate as part of their LCFF responsibilities . Register for the webinar here.

Learn more about alternatives to suspension and expulsion on the CSBA website, and see what resources governance teams can use to involve parents and community members in developing their Local Control and Accountability Plans in CSBA’s LCFF Toolkit.

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