California schools are reducing suspension rates, reports Sharon Noguchi in the San Jose Mercury News.
Pressed by law enforcement, civil-rights advocates and the realization that the way they disciplined students was failing, schools are keeping on campus more kids who talk back, throw tantrums or even threaten teachers.
Some educators say they’ve found better alternatives. Five years ago, Yerba Buena High in East San Jose lost 1,062 days to suspension. Last school year, that was down to 23 days. “Suspending students is not effective,” said Yerba Buena Principal Tom Huynh.
Instead of sending students home on a mini-vacation, YB requires detention. At a recent session, a counselor talked about her own rebellious childhood.
Oak Grove High, which serves high-poverty San Jose neighborhoods, uses detention, Saturday school or litter patrol, as well as referrals to a counselor, anger-management help or a substance abuse support group.
But some teachers say “taking away the option to suspend creates a disciplinary void and sticks them with rowdy or even dangerous kids in class,” writes Noguchi.
“For an experienced teacher who knows how to deal with intense behavioral management — we get that,” said one Oakland Unified teacher who didn’t want to be identified for fear of reprisal. “But for a new teacher, it’s a disaster.”
Even worse, Oakland teachers allege, the pressure not to suspend has led schools to fudge their numbers by not documenting fights or even weapons violations, or the ensuing punishments.
Oakland Unified was forced to reduce suspensions as part of a settlement with the federal Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. Instead, the district promotes “restorative justice,” which “tries to get scofflaws to make amends, combatants to reconcile and students to come to terms with any harm they’ve done.” The district stresses conflict resolution and support for African-American boys.
“All of this is done to try to put a Band-Aid over a gaping wound. It leaves a lot of kids feeling unsafe,” one teacher said.
You can look at school suspension rates by district, courtesy of UCLA’s Civil Rights Project, which is leading the anti-suspension crusade.