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State records fifth year of declining student suspensions
Turlock Unified sees increase in suspensions
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State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced that the number of students suspended and expelled in California public schools has declined for the fifth year in a row. Locally, however, Turlock Unified School District reported an increase in student suspensions from 2015-16 to 2016-17.

From the 2011-12 school year to 2016-17, suspensions declined by a remarkable 46 percent across the state, meaning there were 327,857 fewer suspensions in 2016-17 than in 2011-12.

 Similarly, expulsions decreased across the state by 42 percent, dropping from about 9,800 to 5,700, a difference of about 4,100 students.

Turlock Unified School District had a suspension rate of 5.8 percent in 2016-17, slightly higher than the county’s suspension rate of 5.5 percent and significantly higher than the statewide rate of 3.6 percent.

A total of 1,398 students were suspended at Turlock schools in the 2016-17 school year, which is 58 more students than were suspended in the 2015-16 year, but 120 fewer students than were suspended in 2014-15.

The figures come from data collected by the California Department of Education and are the most detailed and comprehensive statistics in the nation. The data, which covers both 2015-16 and 2016-17, provides detailed information that includes suspension rates of numerous student groups, including males, females, Latinos, whites, African-Americans, students with disabilities, and students from low-income families.

 “This new information demonstrates that efforts by educators all over the state to find better ways to engage students in learning and address behavior problems are paying off in the form of greatly reduced suspensions and expulsions and that translates into more students in class,” said Torlakson, a former science teacher and cross country coach. “The bottom line is that students have to be in class to learn, to succeed, to develop their potential, and to fulfill their dreams.

 “Information is power,” said Torlakson. “Since we started collecting and publicizing this data, educators, parents and community members have worked hard to find ways to keep students in school while maintaining a safe environment.”

The new suspension and expulsion numbers are available at the CDE DataQuest Web site and allow for much more in-depth analysis. For example, the new data shows that the suspension and expulsion rate for African American and foster youth face disciplinary action at higher rates than other student groups, even though both groups have experienced significant decline.

The suspension rate for white students has decreased from 4.7 percent to 3.2 percent, a decrease of 1.5 percentage points. Meanwhile, the suspension rate for African American students has decreased from 13.7 percent to 9.8 percent, a decrease of 3.9 percentage points. The suspension rate for Hispanic or Latino students has decreased from 6.1 percent to 3.7 percent, a decrease of 2.4 percentage points.

 “Disparities in suspension rates among student groups are disturbing and needed to be addressed,” Torlakson said.

 “We have much work to do. We need to do more, and we need to do better.”

Over the past few years, the CDE has initiated forums and workshops to make districts, administrators, and teachers aware of successful alternatives to suspensions and expulsions, including “restorative justice” programs that help students understand the nature and consequences of their actions.

In some programs, after an incident of student misconduct, affected parties decide how to repair harm and to do so in a way that meets the victim’s needs, holds offenders accountable, and promotes school safety.

Other strategies underway in California schools include teaching life skills and emotional control. The CDE launched its Behavioral Intervention Strategies and Supports Web page as an additional resource.

Additional strategies may also be funded by the $2.5 million in equity grants approved by the Legislature. The CDE will distribute these grants to school districts and county offices of education to improve test scores, graduation rates, and disciplinary actions for student groups that are lagging.

Legislation effective in January 2015 placed limits on suspensions for “willful defiance,” a category in the state Education Code that had been used broadly to discipline students. Willful defiance became an issue after CDE data revealed that students in certain ethnic groups, particularly African Americans, experienced a disproportionate percentage of expulsions and suspensions under that single category.

Since the law took effect, the total number of overall defiance-only suspensions have decreased from about 335,000 to 78,000, a decrease of nearly 77 percent. The rate for African Americans dropped from about 62,000 to 13,000, a decline of nearly 80 percent.