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Defiance no reason to suspend students, board president says

April 11, 2013|By Teresa Watanabe | This post has been corrected. See note at the bottom for details.
  • L.A. Unified President Monica Garcia proposes an end to "willful defiance" suspensions.
L.A. Unified President Monica Garcia proposes an end to "willful… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )

Administrators in the Los Angeles Unified School District would no longer be allowed to suspend students for mouthing off or other acts of “willful defiance” under a groundbreaking school board resolution set to be proposed next week.

Amid rising national concern that harsh discipline practices disproportionately harm minority students, the resolution by board President Monica Garcia would mark the first state ban on suspensions for willful defiance.

Instead, schools would be required to use less punitive alternatives to deal with behavioral problems.  Students have been suspended for such acts as wearing hats, tapping their feet on the floor and refusing to read as directed under the willful defiance category, which accounts for nearly 42% of all suspensions in California and about one-third in L.A. Unified.

Garcia was scheduled to appear at a rally Thursday with hundreds of students and community activists to kick off a citywide campaign to pass the resolution, the School Climate Bill of Rights.

“LAUSD taking a stand on this would be an enormous improvement for students and school culture,” said Laura Faer of the Public Counsel Law Center, a Los Angeles-based  pro bono law firm that has long worked with community groups on the discipline issue.

Faer said two decades of research has shown that suspending students does not improve behavior but only places students at higher risk for dropping out or running afoul of the law. 

Studies have also shown that harsh discipline policies are used more frequently with African American youth and students with disabilities. In an analysis of federal data released this week, the UCLA Civil Rights Project reported that African Americans accounted for 26% of L.A. Unified’s suspensions in 2009-10 but make up less than 10% of the district’s students.

However, the district has made progress in reducing suspensions overall. The number of instruction days lost to suspensions decreased to 26,286 in 2011-12, compared to 74,765 in 2006-07.

Garcia’s resolution would direct all schools to develop two alternatives to suspension that research has shown to be effective: restorative justice practices, which include peer mediation, counseling and face-to-face meetings among involved parties and a program to improve schoolwide behavior through clear expectations and incentives.

The resolution would also require the district to release data on suspensions every quarter and set up a complaint process for students and parents if their schools do not establish the two prescribed alternative programs. And it would better define the role of police on school campuses to minimize their involvement in disciplining students.

The resolution was developed by a coalition of community groups, including the Community Rights Campaign, Community Coalition, Brotherhood Crusade, Inner-City Struggle and Gay-Straight Alliance. It is set to be introduced at the L.A. Board of Education meeting next week and will be voted on in May.

Judith Perez of the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles said principals supported efforts to decrease suspensions but must be given adequate training and resources for alternatives.  “What do you do with a defiant student?” she asked. “We can’t put our heads in the sand and pretend such students don’t exist.”

Ellis Arkliss, 20, a L.A. Unified graduate who said he was suspended multiple times from 7th through 10th grade for such acts as wearing a beanie, said the resolution “would change everything.”

“Suspensions don’t get to the root of the problem,” he said. “They are a bad way to deal with issues, period.”

[For the Record, 10:10 a.m. PDT April 23: An earlier version of this online post gave an incorrect name for one of the groups that developed the resolution. It is the Community Rights Campaign, not the Civil Rights Campaign.]

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teresa.watanabe@latimes.com

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