Report: California schools see drop in suspensions for minor offenses

Dive Brief:

  • California schools have seen sharp declines in suspensions for disruption or defiance since the 2011-12 school year, and that trend has not been offset by increases in suspension for other reasons, according to a new analysis of California data from The Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the University of California Los Angeles’ Civil Rights Project.
  • The report also shows racial gaps in suspensions have narrowed and that suspensions and “the resulting days of lost instruction” have dropped the most for Black students. The data through the 2018-19 school year, however, still shows Black students lost roughly three times the number of days as white students because of suspension. Black students with disabilities lost the most days, with Native American students with disabilities being the group with the second-highest rate.
  • With more districts considering the role of law enforcement in schools, the report also shows many districts — 180 out of 397 — are not reporting school-based arrests or referrals to police. “This failure means that the harmful and disparate impact of school policing on California’s youth of color and students with disabilities has remained hidden from the public,” write authors Daniel J. Losen and Paul Martinez.

The image shows the decline in suspension rates by race.

The Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the University of California Los Angeles’ Civil Rights Project


Dive Insight:

The report reflects the impact of state legislation that ended suspensions and expulsions for minor infractions — first implemented in K-3 in 2015 and then expanded through 8th grade this year. But it also shows some districts saw an increase in number of days students were suspended.

“California schools will never close the achievement gap if they don’t close the discipline gap,” Losen said in a press release. “Facing unprecedented challenges and budget cuts, when they re-open, school districts will have to focus on more equitable policy and personnel choices to end injustice resulting from unnecessary suspensions and to ensure that all students have an equal opportunity to learn.”

For districts that did report referrals to police — required by the U.S. Department of Education’s 2015-16 Civil Rights Data Collection — the Los Angeles Unified School District had a higher rate of referrals (1.46) per 100 students than it did in 2011-12 (.58). But for the 2017-18 CRCD, which has not yet been published, the rate has fallen to .79.

On Monday, the district announced Superintendent Austin Beutner has formed a nine-member task force to study the training, practices, policies and budget of the Los Angeles School Police. “Together, we will look at what is needed to keep schools safe as well as what students need to feel free from stigma and to feel they are a respected part of their school community,” Beutner said in a statement. “We will ask hard and uncomfortable questions and come up with concrete recommendations. The goal is not to make a political statement, it’s to do the best we can for students.”

The group is expected to release a progress report and initial recommendations in August. Also relevant is a new report from UCLA’s Black Male Institute showing that the district’s police department has seen an increase in incidents involving suicidal behavior and trauma and that students would benefit from more counselors and mental health providers. 

And both studies come during a week of events linked to #PoliceFreeSchools, a campaign involving several national organizations. Students of color in multiple cities are expected to appeal to school boards and city officials to cut off their contracts with local police departments, following similar efforts in Minneapolis and other sites across the country.

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