As Sheriff of Stanislaus County, I appreciate the importance of educating our young people, so that they're prepared to succeed rather than turn to a life of crime, gangs and addiction. I find it troubling how many local youth - approximately one out of every four - are not graduating from high school. When these students do not graduate, they're far more likely to end up becoming the victim or perpetrator of crime. Research confirms what we've seen first-hand: high school dropouts are eight times more likely than graduates to end up behind bars. If we could raise graduation rates by just 10 percentage points, we would see a 20 percent decrease in homicides and aggravated assaults in Stanislaus County and statewide. There are steps that we, as a community, can take to raise graduation rates and prevent today's youth from becoming tomorrow's criminals.
For one, we must keep students in school, where we can provide them with the support and learning opportunities necessary to graduate. That's why I'm concerned by the rate at which we're removing students from school through suspensions for relatively minor, non-violent and/or non-drug related misbehavior. Suspensions are often necessary, particularly for violent and drug-related offenses however; the majority of suspensions in California are not for violence or drugs.
When students are removed from school for misbehavior, it results in a missed learning opportunity, giving the students an unsupervised vacation and making them more likely to get in trouble, disengage from school, and ultimately dropout. As Sheriff, I see this as a serious public safety concern. One recent study found that 9th grade students who had been suspended even once, were twice as likely to drop out of school. Research conducted by the Council of State Governments shows that students who have been suspended or expelled were nearly three times as likely to have contact with the juvenile justice system within the following year, as compared to other students who weren't suspended.
One measure introduced in our State Legislature, Assembly Bill 420, would encourage the use of alternative discipline strategies for minor misbehavior. It would limit the most extreme uses of disruption or defiance as grounds for suspension against younger students or for isolated incidents, and as a basis for expulsion in general. Those suspensions permitted under AB 420 on the grounds of "disruption" or "willful defiance" would be applied only after alternative disciplinary approaches have been implemented and failed. AB420 is currently in the Senate Third Reading File.
Our schools need the resources and support to correct behavior without significant learning interruptions. AB 420 would provide guidance to educators, ensuring that students are in school and receive appropriate discipline, rather than an unsupervised vacation on the streets, getting into trouble. The focus needs to be on appropriate, intensive interventions that will help us achieve higher graduation rates and lower crime rates in the long run.
We certainly don't want to undermine the authority of our school administrators and teachers or their ability to ensure the safety and security of our schools, but we also need a consistent standard for the application of discipline, with a specific focus on keeping students in school.
This measure is worthy of careful consideration, and I applaud school leaders, the Legislature and the Governor for working together on meaningful legislation that benefits our young people.
Sheriff Christianson is an active member of "Fight Crime Invest in Kids", a non-profit organization dedicated to crime prevention strategies, informing the public and policymakers about those findings, and urging investment in programs proven effective by research. Fight Crime Invest in Kids focuses on high quality early education programs, prevention of child abuse and neglect, after-school programs for children and teens, and interventions to get troubled kids back on track. Find out how you can help at: