Under current Education Code, the law allows for home suspension for students in grades 4-12 who have disrupted school activities or defied valid authority. The problem with the current policy is that it is highly subjective and has been found both locally and statewide to be disproportionately applied to students of color.
According to the presentation by district staff, the 4 through 12 grade restriction has been recently enacted, and last year no fourth or fifth grader was given an in-home suspension.
One of the possibilities is that the district wanted to “change our current policy to say that no student may be suspended for disruption or willful defiance regardless of their age.” This has been done in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
DJUSD administrators have made a concerted effort to avoid the use of EC section 48900(k) and we have seen a dramatic drop in the use of this Education Code section for home suspension in recent years. In 2014-15, there were 251 home suspensions, where 15 students out of the 251 only were suspended for willful disruption or defiance – or six percent of the total.
The breakdown was 80 percent male, 20 percent female. Twenty percent were ELL (Spanish speakers), 47 percent were white, 13 percent were black, and 40 percent were Hispanic/Latino. “If we got rid of this education code, assuming that these 15 students weren’t going to be suspended for something else instead of just disruption, it would reduce our suspensions by 9.4% which is very significant.”
According to the staff report, “Safety of all students and staff remains our highest priority. The elimination of Education Code 48900(k) would not compromise safety since there is still the option to remove the disruptive/defiant student from the classroom environment and provide an in-school suspension alternative.”
They add, “In addition, the district continues to invest in training for staff on restorative practices which can be a highly effective tool with disruptive/defiant students.”
There remains a disparity in the enforcement of these types of suspensions, but it is not as pronounced as it once was and it is not as pronounced as it is in other districts. She added, “We talk a lot about using alternatives to suspensions especially for willful defiance and disruption.” She noted that with each of these 15 cases, there were alternatives to suspension done, some in the same day that the home suspension occurred.
“I don’t want to give you the impression that our administrators jump to using the suspension,” she added. “It’s really a last resort.” However, she added, “It is disproportionately applied, there is no doubt about that.”
The district is looking at implementing more restorative practices, especially around the defiance issue. “Sometimes those are the exact kids that you need to get reengaged so that they can maintain themselves in a class,” she said.
Susan Lovenburg said, “I would want us to have a plan for improving our in-school suspensions program. Specifically the policy says to ensure the supervision and ongoing learning and to me that means supervision by a teacher and I don’t think that’s what we have in any of our sites currently. But I am in favor of the (in-home suspension) change.”
Board Vice President Madhavi Sunder said, “These numbers are really surprising and alarming. Not surprising that the disparate impact here reflects what we’re seeing nationally, so we’re really not all that different.”
She noted that we have a district staff that is attentive to this issue and, despite this, “we are still seeing very high rates of suspension based on this category disruption/defiance, almost double the number with respect the number of Hispanic students that we have here. Four times with respect to African-American students.”
Ms. Sunder added, “It’s unacceptable. I’m so glad you brought this to us to think about.” She said she is leaning towards option 2 and suggested the district bring this back to the board quickly “so that we can implement this for the new year – depending on how the board wants to go with it.”
Two board members – Susan Lovenburg and Madhavi Sunder – were ready to have the policy brought back for a second reading, favoring the policy option 2, saying, “No student may be suspended for disruption or willful defiance, except by a teacher pursuant to Education Code 48910(j).”
Tom Adams asked that it be brought back in September to look at it again. He wanted to wait for school to start and didn’t want a second reading at the August 20 meeting.
Barbara Archer said, “I don’t know enough about the impact on the teachers, the impact on the administrators – again, we’re primarily focused on the impact of the kids. I’m leaning toward option 2, but I really can’t make a decision without hearing from the others that it would effect.”
Tom Adams added, “I want to be clear when we come back on a second reading, what is the problem it’s really solving. In a sense is it addressing a need within the district or are we trying to also prevent issues that have occurred in other districts?”
He added, “I know CSDA has provided thoughtful advice, but there’s a sense, if it’s working, why are you fixing it.” So he wants the policy when it comes back to address specific concerns within the district or outside of it.
—David M. Greenwald reporting