Policy Priorities

Policy Priorities image of kids

Dismantling the School to Prison Pipeline

All children need access to a quality public education in a safe and supportive environment

There were over 700,000 suspensions given to children attending public schools in California in the 2010-2011 school year. Across the state children are removed from their regular classrooms for disciplinary reasons, resulting in hours, days, or weeks of lost instructional time. While it may be necessary to administer suspensions and expulsions in some cases, many of these suspensions result from applying zero-tolerance, punitive, or “one size fits all” school discipline policies to low-level, trivial student misbehavior.

Additionally, we often see more punitive school discipline policies and higher numbers of suspensions, expulsions, and other exclusionary practices in schools attended primarily by children of color—particularly boys of color. The U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights reports that Black children in California receive out of school suspensions at a rate of 171 per 1000 students—over two times the average rate for the state (75 per 1000 students). In some schools over 20% of the students receive suspensions.

This use of harsh and often unjust discipline practices can be prevented when schools use more positive and developmentally appropriate approaches to address student misbehavior, and when classrooms are generally welcoming, and inclusive learning environments.

Why are exclusionary school discipline practices bad for children?

The overuse of suspension and expulsion is associated with negative outcomes for children. Research does not support “frequent suspension or expulsion in response to non-violent and mundane forms of adolescent misbehavior.”

  • Some students are eventually pushed out of school. Many studies have found that suspension can contributes to academic and social disengagement that increases the likelihood of additional disciplinary exclusions, academic failure, and, eventually, drop-out or push-out.
  • Children who have been suspended are significantly more likely to become involved in the juvenile justice system than their peers.
  • There is little evidence to suggest that suspension and expulsion has benefited students or their communities. Psychologists have found that exclusionary practices can increase “student shame, alienation, rejection, and breaking of healthy adult bonds,” contributing to poor mental health for young people.

Harsh school discipline policies also negatively impact schools and the success of our education system. Studies have shown that schools that frequently use out of school suspensions often also have lower achievement scores.

The root cause of student misbehavior is often not addressed. Simply removing a student from the classroom will punish the student, but the reason for the punishment is not dealt with in order to prevent future negative interactions between students and school staff.

How do we ensure all students are treated fairly in school and remain in the classroom?

  • Positive Behavioral and Intervention Supports (PBIS)—PBIS is a framework or approach that equips school staff with tools to prevent behavior incidents from arising. School staffs adopt and organize evidence-based behavioral interventions into an integrated continuum that enhances academic and social behavior outcomes for all students.
  • Restorative Justice—A process used among students and school staff who are involved in a behavior incident with a focus on repairing the harm done to the students involved and the entire school community. For instance, community service may be the agreed-upon consequence instead of suspension.
  • Statewide legislative action—CDF-CA joins its allies to create opportunities to challenge statewide policies in the California Education Code and other state laws that result in fewer unnecessary and unfair suspensions, expulsions, and other exclusionary measures that push students out of school. CDF-CA’s legislative priorities in school discipline reform include:
    • Elimination of the policies and practices some schools employ to push children out of school through harsh zero tolerance school discipline policies, school police presence, and other punitive practices.  
    • Promote positive and developmentally appropriate approaches to school discipline such as Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports in school districts across the state to ensure all students are encouraged to stay and succeed in school. 
    • Improve state and local data collection practices and oversight mechanisms to precisely formulate policy recommendations to improve the treatment and well-being of children in school.
  • Listen to what children and youth have to say—Many students are acutely aware of the challenges they face at school when they are exposed to negative learning environments where punishments are not issued fairly. Groups such as the Youth Justice Coalition and The Labor Community Strategy Center’s Community Rights Campaign have mobilized youth to work toward reforms of school, district, and state school discipline policies and practices. Hear how youth describe their solutions and continue to work toward adoption and implementation of more just school discipline policies.

Dignity in Schools Campaign-Los Angeles

CDF-CA belongs to the Los Angeles chapter of the Dignity in Schools Campaign. The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) is a national campaign that challenges systemic school push-out across the country and advocates for the human right of every young person to a quality education and to be treated with dignity. DSC unites parents, youth, advocates, and educators to adopt and sustain alternatives to zero tolerance school discipline policies.

Our DSC partners include:

Our DSC-LA coalition work has included:

Decriminalizing truancy and positively supporting school attendance: Students are late or truant from school for a variety of reasons. These reasons range from emotional and mental health problems, school environment, special education needs, economic pressures, substance abuse, physical or emotional abuse in the home, lack of adequate transportation, fear of being harmed at school, bullying, and more. In Los Angeles city, the daytime curfew law – or LAMC 45.04 – did not address these root causes of truancy, but rather penalized students with police stops, court visits and hefty fines. According to data, police issued more than 47,000 truancy tickets from 2004 to 2009. Before reform, each curfew fine could cost more than $250 and require students and their families to miss additional time from school and work to go to court to resolve them.

In October 2011, CDF-CA, along with its DSC-LA partners, worked with the Los Angeles School Police Department to release a new protocol intended to reduce the number of daytime curfew tickets written to students. The directive puts an end to curfew sweeps without cause, where school police ticketed students just outside or even on school grounds. It also reminds officers that merely violating curfew is not a reason to search, handcuff, or detain a student, and it charges officers to encourage students to get to campus rather than to ticket them. These are important modifications to ensure that the nation's largest school district police force is working with schools, administrators, students and parents to keep students on track within the educational environment by reducing court appearances and increasing alternate attendance improvement program alternatives offered through a non-penal system or judicial environment. CDF-CA is working alongside DSC-LA to monitor the implementation and enforcement of this directive. Read the DSC-LA press release on the truancy directive, and a Los Angeles Times article about the directive.

‘Drive for Dignity’ Car Parade for L.A. Schools: Students, families, advocates, organizers and teachers, as part of the Dignity in Schools Campaign – LA Chapter, kicked off a Drive for Dignity on May 24, 2011, to put the focus on major efforts to keep students in school and “on the road” to their future. The car parade, called the Car March, drove past three South L.A. high schools where school push out is a reality -- Fremont, Manual Arts and West Adams Prep – on its way to a rally at the L.A. School Board. The car march recognized recent progress by the Los Angeles Police Department and local schools to reduce the number of truancy tickets and out-of-school suspensions.

Student Attendance Taskforce (SATF)

With a high correlation between truancy, dropping out of school and crime, reducing truancy and positively supporting school attendance is critical in L.A. County. Judge Michael Nash initiated the Student Attendance Taskforce (originally the Truency Taskforce) in 2010 to identify and lift up local and national strategies so that the courts can more positively contribute to this issue. The SATF, part of the Education Coordinating Council, spent considerable time examining approaches to truancy that were working – especially those that minimized interaction with law enforcement and kept young people out of the courts. In 2012, the SATF produced a report with recommendations for the courts, school district, law enforcement agencies and community groups to positively support school attendance. CDF-CA has been an active member of the taskforce since its inception, and is currently leading and participating in multiple subcommittees, including one on strengthening school and community connections and another on securing free bus passes for students.