This past Monday, the California Department of Education, the Office of the California Attorney General, and the California Endowment hosted a hearing that touched on keeping students in school and addressing disproportionate discipline. As an issue of educational equity, the hearing explored reasons behind the problem while highlighting solutions that keep schools safe, keep students in the classroom,and pave the way for a healthy and more successful future for California’s youth. As the largest state in the nation, California can claim to some appalling statistics related to out-of-school suspension and expulsion to which Keynote speaker, Russlynn H. Ali (Office of Civil Rights within the Department of Education), was able to shed some light on:

  • In 2009-2010, roughly 21,000 students were expelled and more than 757,000 suspensions were imposed on California students
  • In 2010-2011, another 700,000 suspensions were imposed
  • Suspensions disproportionately impact students of color; African American students in San Francisco are six times more likely to be suspended than their white peers.

As a severely negative consequence, California schools are suspending more students than they graduate. It’s also alarming that most suspensions aren’t for violence or drugs, and that the most common basis for suspension is something as vague as disrupting class or willfully defying authority. Suspensions need to be carefully considered, since they lead to students becoming disengaged, disconnected from school culture, fall further behind in academics, and become more likely to be disruptive. For many, a suspension serves an unsupervised vacation, where zero learning takes place. In fact, students who have been suspended or expelled are five times more likely to drop out of school and1 1 times more likely to turn to crime.

By keeping students in schools, they remain safer and benefit from evidence-based alternatives that hold them accountable and reduce behaviors that lead to suspension. All this takes place while keeping students on track with their education. The conversation needs to cover other means of correction that can be employed before resorting to suspensions (such as community service or in-school suspensions that take place in a supervised classroom). Rather than having schools fork over their responsibilities to police officers with the overuse of suspensions, we need to look at students within the context of their lives without changing our expectations for what they can achieve. By doing this, we improve attendance and experience higher academic achievement rates for our most deserving students. Only then can we begin to confront this stark inequity within public education.

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