Photo by Flickr user ccarlstead/ Creative Commons
Photo by Flickr user ccarlstead/ Creative Commons
Photo by Flickr user ccarlstead/ Creative Commons

Middle and high school students of color are more likely to be suspended than their white peers, according to recently published reports. The “crisis,” as it’s now being called by the National School Board Association (NSBA), is bringing new calls for reform of current suspension practices.

A new UCLA report, shows that from 1972 to 2010, the black student suspension rate grew from 11.8 to 24.3 percent, while the white student rate increase was from 6 to 7.1 percent. During the same period, the Latino student suspension rate increased from 6.1 to 12 percent.

During the 2009-2010 school year, more than an estimated two million students, or one out of every nine were suspended at least one time that year in the U.S.

The report, released by its Civil Rights Project (CRP), breaks down data collected from more than 26,000 middle and high school students across the country. It shows when a ninth grader is suspended even once, his or her dropout rate nearly doubles when compared to students who have never been suspended.

Also last week, the California Department of Education released school discipline data that shows 709,596 student suspensions for the 2011-2012 school year.

Following the findings, the NSAB recently released a new policy calling for school board members to reduce, if not eliminate, out-of-school suspensions.

Los Angeles Unified School District Board President, Monica Garcia, expressed support for the new NSAB policy guidelines and participated in a rally this month for school discipline reform in South L.A.

Garcia, and the Liberty Hill Foundation, along with several Los Angeles-based community organizations held the rally to garner support for passage of the School Climate Bill-of-Rights.

The event drew hundreds of youth, community leaders and elected officials in support of the passage of the school board resolution supporters hope will offer a common sense approach to school discipline.

Event coordinator Lester Garcia, said in a press release that “Passage of the School Climate Bill of Rights is another a key step to further transform disciplinary approaches that hold back young people.”

The city-wide effort hopes to stop ineffective disciplinary methods like the zero tolerance approach, which can push talented youth out of school through suspension and expulsion.

Although zero-tolerance policies have existed in the U.S. since the 1960s, they became widespread in 1994 after Congress required states to expel students who bring firearms to school for one-year.
Many states expanded the use of these policies, and the severity of punishment, to include minor infractions such as tardiness and disruptive behavior in the classroom.

In 2007, The Los Angeles Unified School District began addressing the overuse of school suspension and implemented a Positive Behavioral Support policy, which focuses on alternatives to suspension when dealing with disruptive students.

“Positive intervention is a win-win for students and schools. They address student needs, create safe learning environments and lead to increased graduation rates,” said Garcia in the release.

At Theodore Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights, the LAUSD policy and report findings are of great concern to the students, faculty and parents because of the large number of minority students enrolled at the school.

Ben Gertner, Principal of Roosevelt’s School of Communications, New Media and Technology says the report findings are significant.

“I don’t believe suspension should be the first option in disciplining students. It pushes the student out of the school system,” said Gertner.

Gertner says while removing a student for a day may temporarily help a classroom, it doesn’t help the disengaged student who is often sent home where there is no adult supervision.

Many times students are suspended for minor violations, Gertner says, such as school dress code violations, tardiness or disrupting the classroom. In these cases, Gertner says there are other ways to discipline other than suspension.

“Instead of sending students home we keep them in the office to do their work. We help them take responsibility for their actions,” he said.

“Our suspension rates went from 10 percent, three years ago, to six, then two percent at Roosevelt. They’ve really dropped radically,” said Gertner.

According to the CRP report, alternate methods of dealing with students can help improve graduation rates and achievement scores, giving students a chance for a better future.

The group found to be the highest among suspensions, according to the CRP report, were Black male students with disabilities with 36 percent suspended at least once during the 2009-2010 school year.

Nationally, African American students were suspended at a 17 percent rate, American Indians 8 percent, Latino 7 percent, white students 5 percent and Asians 2 percent.
Similar protests against LAUSD school discipline practices also took place last year, when hundreds of students from throughout L.A. gathered at city hall to speak against truancy sweeps, arrests, detention and fines.

Former Boyle Heights Beat youth reporter and current Roosevelt senior, Rosa Solache was one of the students arrested and fined for being late to school under the zero-tolerance policy.

The 2009 incident placed Solache and her family under financial difficulty and embarrassed her in front of friends and classmates.

“The bus passed me by because it was overcrowded. Other people at school saw me get into the cop car and I felt like a criminal,” said Solache.

Garcia said incidents like this are exactly what the School Climate Bill of Rights is intended to prevent.

Legislature is currently reviewing three bills (SB 1235, AB 2145 and AB 2242) that address problems with school discipline, which will include the reporting data and changes to suspension procedures.

Gus Ugalde is a print journalist and Boyle Heights native. He is a graduate of both Salesian High School and East Los Angeles College. With writing as his passion, he has had over 500 stories published...

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