The topic of school discipline, school safety and the so-called school to prison pipeline continues to heat up. We will be reporting more regularly on these issues over the next year, as more and more voices push for change.
In the meantime, here’s an overview of some of the events of the past week and the coming week.
NEW BILLS & WILLFUL DEFIANCE
On Tuesday of this week a cluster of new bills will have their first hearings in the state capital. All are aimed at at reforming some part of what education advocates call a crisis in school discipline. AB 549 would push for more school counselors and better defined roles for school police, and SB 744 would help fix some of the more pressing problems with “community day schools” that, at present, often lead students to drop out, rather than helping students toward graduation.
But perhaps the most important of the new bills is AB420, which would greatly curtail the use of the dangerously vague catch-all category of “willful defiance” as the sole reason for suspending or expelling a student.
We’ll have more on the willful defiance issue as time goes along. But for now what you need to know is that it is defined as, “disrupting school activities or otherwise willfully defying the valid authority of school staff,” and that, according to a new report by the California Department of Education, 53 percent of all school suspensions this past year had this kitchen sink category as the primary cause.
A NEW NATIONAL REPORT AND A “SELECT” COMMITTEE MEETS
Last week, UCLA’s Civil Rights Project released a first-of-its-kind new report analyzing the data from more than 26,000 American middle schools, and found that one out of every nine secondary school students was suspended at least once during the year—and that the majority of suspensions were for minor infractions of school rules—things like disrupting class, tardiness, and dress code violations. The suspensions were rarely for serious, violent or criminal behavior.
The report also found that racial disparities in the use of school discipline are so great, and have grown so dramatically since the 1970s, that the matter has become a civil rights issue—especially for African American students who now face an astonishing 24.3% risk of being suspended—that’s a one in four likelihood.
When gender and disability are thrown into the mix, things get worse: According to the report, 36% of all Black male students with disabilities in middle and high schools, were suspended at least once in 2009-2010—more than one in three.
The UCLA study warned that the findings should be of “serious concern” given that new research shows being suspended even once in ninth grade means “a 32% risk for dropping out” before graduation.
“There is something terribly wrong,” wrote Daniel Losen, report author and director of The Center for Civil Rights Remedies, “when, despite very effective alternatives, so many middle and high schools quickly punish and exclude students of color, students with disabilities and English Learners. We know these schools can change because, in many large districts, we found many low-suspending schools where suspension is still a measure of last resort.”
All these points and more were discussed in Sacramento this past Friday morning as testimony was presented at the Select Committee on Delinquency Prevention and Youth Development, chaired by Assemblymember Roger Dickinson (D).
The special hearing, called: Beyond Newtown – Promoting Safe, Supportive, and Healthy Schools, heard some affecting testimony from all over California.
Yet, not surprisingly, our own LAUSD was front and center more than any other district.
SCHOOL DISCIPLINE AT LA UNIFIED
The UCLA report found that LAUSD had 54 schools out of its 215 secondary schools that suspended at least one segment of its student body (African American males, let’s say) more than 25%, and 13 schools that suspended one group or segment more than 50%. The report designated these high suspension campuses as “hot spots.”
Nationally, LA Unified ranked as 4th in the nation, when it came to these “hot spot” schools.
That’s the bad news. However, like many districts, LAUSD is a very mixed bag when it comes to school suspensions. This means there is also good news—namely the fact that the district ranked first in the nation when it came to low suspending schools (81 schools) that “suspended no group over 10%.”
THE MIRACLE OF GARFIELD HIGH
Of all the low-suspending LAUSD schools, the one with the most dramatic story of change is James A. Garfield High School, which is located in an unincorporated area of East Los Angeles. Garfield draws from some of LA’s most impoverished communities, as a consequence, it has traditionally dealt with a host of social problems that often lead to discipline issues, including gangs, drugs, and the family dysfunction that often accompanies poverty.
Thus it was nothing out of the ordinary that, in the 2008/2009 school year, Garfield instituted 683 suspensions and one expulsion.
But in January 2009 Garfield got a brand new principal named Jose Huerta, who was part of a new reorganization plan for the desperately troubled school. Among other changes he and his team instituted, Huerta decided that he was going to take suspensions and expulsions entirely “off the table.”
It was a radical promise but, amazingly, Huerta made good on it. At the end of the 2010/2011 school year, Garfield had suspended one kid, and expelled zero kids. The next year, it was the same, suspended 1, expelled none.
Thus far for the 2012/2013 school year there have been no suspensions.
You’ll be hearing a lot more about Garfield in the coming weeks—as we think you’ll find its transformation to be an important and instructive story.
AND IN OTHER NEWS
That’s all for now. Tomorrow some interesting LA Sheriff’s department news, plus news about a proposed LA Unified Board resolution—-and more soon on LA County Probation.
So stay tuned.