Report: Over half of CA student suspensions issued are minor offenses

The corridor of a juvenile detention center.
The corridor of a juvenile detention center. Photo by Richard Johnstone via Flickr Creative Commons

More than half of the student school suspensions issued last school year in California were for relatively minor non-violent, non-drug related incidents, according to a report released today from the nonprofit “Fighting Crime: Invest in Kids California.”

The report says that although the state's suspension/expulsion rate has fallen over the past five years, the harsh tactics could lead to a "classmate to cellmate" pipeline.

“California schools issued over 700,000 suspensions during the 2010-2011 school year," says the report in its executive summary. "Eleven suspensions for every 100 students.”

But for the Los Angeles Unified School District, the statistic is a lower — for every 100, the suspensions number five.

Suspension rates varied from school district to school district based on different factors; for instance, at Long Beach Unified, about 50 percent of the suspensions in the 2010-11 year were for violent or drug incidents (that gives LBUSD a three-per-100-student suspension rate). Pasadena Unified had 48 percent of its suspensions for violent or drug incidents and a 15-per-100-students suspension rate.

See a chart the report complied with the rates for several California school districts.

L.A. Unified has launched an effort to reduce the number of suspensions for “disruptive or willful defiance,” a category that includes talking back to a teacher. This summer, the school district announced it would start collecting suspension data for individual classrooms and at the teacher level. LAUSD is also grappling with a thorny figure that was revealed in an April UCLA study that showed that African-American male students attending LAUSD schools had the highest risk of suspension in the state at 23 percent versus an 11 percent risk for females.

Tuesday's report highlights alternative discipline programs, and puts the onus on local school districts —maintaining that local school officials have more flexibility when it comes to developing discipline policies.

Gardena High School in the 2007-08 academic year implemented the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports program, a three-tiered discipline program designed to address disruptive behavior and zero in on students showing more intense problems with group or individual therapy sessions. According to the report, Gardena H.S reduced its suspensions by 83 percent between the 2007-8 and 2010-11 academic years.

On Monday, LAUSD, L.A. Metropolitan Transportation Authority Metro and the county’s Sheriff’s Department announced the “Transit Juvenile Diversion Program,” a new plan to have LAUSD students who ride Metro buses and trains and get caught violating rules such as eating, drinking, littering or failing to pay fares disciplined by the school district instead of being referred to the Sheriff’s office.

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