- The California Legislature voted Friday to expand the ban on suspensions for “disruption and defiance” across the state through 8th grade, stepping down from an original proposal to extend the current ban up to high school. Gov. Jerry Brown, who signed the current K-3 suspension ban in 2014, has generally opposed longer bans in the past because he fells such state-mandated bans interfere with local school district control and has not commented on the current bill, EdSource reports.
- Despite the K-3 suspension ban, more than half of students who received suspensions for disruption and defiance across all grades during the 2016-17 school year were African-American and Latino boys, even though this population makes up 30.7% of all students, according to an analysis provided by the ACLU of Southern California.
- However, the attention drawn to the issue by the K-3 suspension ban has led to a significant drop in suspensions for the state. Suspensions of all types dropped 46% between the 2011-12 and 2016-17 academic years and suspensions for “disruption and defiance” dropped 79% for African-American student during that time.
Last week, a Newark charter school blocked dozens of students from attending class for failure to meet details of the dress code. The situation escalated when many of those students were found left to their own devices in a nearby park. The school has since acknowledged that the move, though designed to make a point about the need for discipline and adherence to school rules, was not well-thought out. Experts say this situation illustrates the need for schools to distinguish between discipline that is corrective and that which is punitive.
State lawmakers and school leaders are looking for ways to rethink discipline in the wake of research that indicates a disparity in the percentages of suspensions along racial and ethnic lines. For most schools, a focus on reducing suspensions for disruption and defiance at the preschool and K-3 levels makes the most sense. Students at these ages generally have less self-control and many come from home environments where discipline may be weak. Using alternative strategies that teach students ways to control their emotions, demonstrate respect and channel their energies into more productive ways can help edify a student rather than moving them into what is sometimes termed the school-to-prison pipeline.
As students get older, addressing issues of disruption and defiance require more intensive strategies. Students are able to disrupt classes more effectively as they age and defiance can translate into dangerous situations if left unresolved. All students deserve a safe environment that is conducive to learning. As schools struggle to balance the concerns of a disruptive student with the need to protect the safety and learning environment for the remainder of the students, a multi-tiered system of supports, such as Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports, play a greater role. Restorative practices can also make a difference in helping students take responsibility for their actions. In extreme cases, suspension and expulsions need to remain a tool, though efforts should be made to make learning a priority even in those times. Alternative schools and online learning options can help prevent discipline from becoming counterproductive.