Continuing Support for School Discipline Reform
A recent California Statewide poll found that four out of five voters believe California’s school discipline policies need changing. The results of the 800 person-poll, administered by the research firm Fairank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates, and commissioned by the California Endowment, contribute to an emerging school of thought regarding suspensions and expulsions.
The poll reports that the majority of voters recognize that a preventative approach rather than a punitive one is necessary in order to keep students in school and improve school safety. According to the U.S Department of Education, more than 400,00 California public school students were suspended during the 2009-2010 school year. Moreover, the backlash against suspensions and expulsions even led democratic Assemblyman Roger Dickinson from Sacramento to introduce a bill calling for the removal of “willful defiance” within school suspension and expulsion protocol.
As reported by the Sacramento Bee, “willful defiance” is a broad category that justifies suspension for any behavior that disrupts classes, and that it is disproportionately applied to male students of color.
The support for preventative measures for school discipline is not a surprise. If anything it should have come sooner. At my alma mater high school, Richmond High, the suspensions have been halved from 500 in January of 2011 to 290 in January 2012, due to a Restorative Justice Process, where students enter a mediation involving teachers, parents, school officials and other students.
With such success, its difficult to see why school districts don’t try processes like restorative justice or preventative measures and instead hold on to suspensions and expulsions. Suspensions have long lost their meaning. They are no longer a punishment or carry a stigma, but a day off from a school that already treats “troubled” and “difficult” students as pests needing to be gotten rid of.