California Forum

Suspensions and expulsions don’t help California’s workforce. Keep kids in school

The pathway to Harriet Eddy Middle School in Elk Grove is decorated by students for a lunch with parents in 2015 as part of a program to reduce suspensions in middle school.
The pathway to Harriet Eddy Middle School in Elk Grove is decorated by students for a lunch with parents in 2015 as part of a program to reduce suspensions in middle school. Sacramento Bee file

School dropouts are commonly discussed, but too often, school systems effectively push students out of school. This “pushout” is costly and produces terrible outcomes for students, school systems and the economy of our state.

Passing Senate Bill 607, the “Keep Kids in School Act,” by Sen. Nancy Skinner, will reduce school pushout by curbing the overuse of suspensions and expulsions in dealing with some of our most vulnerable students. The bill will impact children as young as five years old and help them stay in school.

Gary Toebben LA Area Chamber (1) (2).jpg
Gary Toebben

As the president and CEO of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, and as a former junior high math teacher, I know how critically important it is to prepare our students early for success in life and our future workforce. When a young person is removed from school for disciplinary reasons, it can begin a process of disengagement that has serious and long-term consequences for the student and for our state.

A 2018 study followed every California 10th grader over three years and calculated that the state will lose approximately $2.7 billion over the lifetime of those students due to their increased dropout rates resulting from school suspensions.

Opinion

The California Education code authorizes school districts to suspend students for various reasons. Some of these actions threaten school safety, and schools should continue to have the ability to take swift and decisive action to ensure safety on campus.

But safety is not the reason for many suspensions. “Disruption” and “willful defiance” are broad and subjective categories that have been used to justify suspensions for infractions such as not paying attention in class or failing to complete assignments. Under this bill, teachers will have the authority to remove a student from a specific class, without canceling their full school participation.

Disruption/defiance suspensions disproportionately impact students with disabilities and students of color. In the 2014-15 school year, black high school students lost 16 more days of instruction per 100 students than their white peers due to disruption/defiance suspensions.

Research shows that students need to be in school daily to succeed and that absenteeism contributes to the education achievement gap that undermines high school graduation and college attainment rates.

In Los Angeles, we have seen alternatives to suspension work. In 2013, Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) became the first school district in California to ban suspensions for “willful defiance.”

Instead, LAUSD focused on alternative disciplinary methods, such as restorative justice, which holds students accountable while keeping them in the classroom. Due to LAUSD’s Restorative Justice program, the district has seen a 92 percent decrease in the number of days lost to suspensions while graduation rates continue to rise.

California has already seen how alternatives to suspensions and expulsions improve student outcomes, make schools feel safer for students and reduce the economic and social costs of school pushout. SB 607 is an important bill that will keep kids in school and help our state thrive.

Gary Toebben is president and CEO, Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. Reach him at laareachamber@lachamber.com.

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