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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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.