Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Law enforcement: “Classmates not Cellmates”- SCHOOL DISCIPLINE POLICIES MAKING US LESS SAFE, NOT MORE + Report & dataset

By Daniel Weintraub, California Health Report |

September 11, 2012 (10:30 pm)  ::  Law enforcement leaders from throughout California said Tuesday that overzealous school disciplinary policies are making the state less safe, not more.

The public schools are suspending and expelling too many students for minor offenses, leaving troubled kids on the street without adult supervision and more likely to commit crimes, said three police chiefs, a county sheriff and a district attorney.

“Students who are frequently suspended from school are at a greater risk of dropping out, and eventually we will see them come across our courtrooms when they turn to crime,” said San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael Ramos. A former school board member, Ramos said many districts’ disciplinary practices are a “recipe for greater misbehavior and crime.”

Ramos was joined by Nevada County Sheriff Keith Royal, who is president of the California State Sheriffs’ Association, Sacramento Police Chief Rick Braziel, Ceres Police Chief Art de Werk, and Los Gatos Police Chief Scott Seaman, who is president of the California Police Chiefs Association.

The law enforcement leaders were convened by a group called Fight Crime: Invest in Kids to bolster an argument that is increasingly gaining traction in California, the idea that when it comes to school discipline, in many cases less would be more.

Strapped for funds and short of staff, schools suspended more than 700,000 students in the 2010-11 academic year, or about 11 suspensions for every 100 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The majority of those suspensions were for non-violent, non-drug related offenses.

Numbers also show wide disparities among schools and districts. Los Angeles suspended just 5 students per 100 while San Diego suspended 10 per 100 and San Juan Unified, in Sacramento County, suspended 16 per 100 students. Other data show that minority students are far more likely to be suspended than whites, even for committing the same offense.

It might seem that suspending or expelling disruptive students would make schools safer, and that might be true in the short term. And many teachers say it is already difficult enough to maintain an orderly classroom. But there is a trade-off for tough or even “zero-tolerance” school discipline. Research shows that students who are suspended are more likely to drop out of school, and drop-outs are more likely to commit crimes. Schools also lose funding when they lose enrollment.

“The only way we can educate our youth is to actually keep them in school,” said Braziel, the Sacramento police chief. Habitually acting out, he said, is “a sign of a child who needs more attention, not less.”

Braziel said a drop-out is 8 times more likely to be incarcerated than someone who graduates from high school. Nationally, he said 70 percent of the prison population is made up of people who failed to graduate from high school.

The Fight Crime group supports a number of bills passed by the Legislature and sent to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown, including AB 2242, a measure that would prohibit schools from expelling students for an offense known as “willful defiance.”

Barrie Becker, the group’s state director, said “willful defiance” is a vague, poorly defined “catch-all” offense that schools sometimes use to get rid of disruptive students who have not committed a serious offense. She said that in an estimated 42 percent of suspensions, and 12 percent of expulsions, “willful defiance” is the most severe offense cited.

The legislation is opposed by school administrators and the California School Boards Association, who contend that it would limit the ability of school officials to keep classrooms safe.

But advocates for the measure and several other bills on this topic that the Legislature has sent to Brown’s desk contend that many districts around the state have already shown that they can keep students safe and classrooms functioning well while reducing the number of suspensions and expulsions.

The key, they say, is positive discipline that engages students rather than isolating them.

Oakland schools reported an 87 percent reduction in suspensions after the district began using a strategy known as “restorative justice” that brings perpetrator and victim together to try to make things right. Woodland is using Positive Behavior Intervention Supports and reports saving $100,000 in reimbursements by keeping more students enrolled. Other schools have reported success with a program known as the “Good Behavior Game.”

“Some schools have made great progress,” Seaman said.

Fight Crime: Invest in Kids released a report Tuesday providing local data on suspension rates in California school districts with at least 10,000 students. See the report at


REPORT RELEASE: California Law Enforcement Leaders Support Effective School Discipline Approaches to Cut Suspensions and Reduce Future Crime

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 11, 2012
Media Contact: Meghan Moroney, ph: 415-450-1913,

Resources and local data at bottom of release.

California Law Enforcement Leaders Support Effective School Discipline Approaches to Cut Suspensions and Reduce Future Crime

“Classmates not Cellmates” shows front-end effort to improve classroom environment as more effective than suspensions, expulsions

SAN FRANCISCO (September 11, 2012) — Members of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids California released a research report today highlighting excessive suspension and expulsion rates in California. The report, “Classmates not Cellmates: Effective School Discipline Cuts Crime and Improves Student Success,” shows that California public schools issued approximately 700,000 suspensions during the 2010-2011 school year. Eleven suspensions were issued for every 100 students in California, the majority of which were for relatively minor, non-violent, non-drug related incidents.

“A student who’s habitually misbehaving or acting out is a sign of a child who needs more attention, not less,” Sacramento Police Chief Rick Braziel said. “To prevent crime most effectively, we must identify students who are heading down the wrong path and get them back on track, without unnecessarily disrupting their academic learning.”

Maintaining safe and secure schools is top priority for Fight Crime: Invest in Kids California members and all law enforcement agencies. According to the report, teachers and school administrators need the ability to suspend and expel students who commit violent acts, bring weapons to school, sell or use drugs on campus or otherwise pose a serious safety concern. Yet schools are suspending or expelling a significant number of students for less threatening behavior such as talking back, disrupting class or otherwise defying authority.

Suspension rates vary considerably between districts. For example, Los Angeles Unified School District had 5 suspensions for every 100 students, compared to 10 suspensions per 100 students in San Diego Unified. Sacramento Unified School District’s suspension rate (16 suspensions per 100 students) was three times higher than the rate in Los Angeles.11 Other school districts have even higher suspension rates.

“Kids have to learn that bad behavior and good behavior have consequences. Behavior problems left unaddressed can lead to more serious offenses in the long run. The earlier we address discipline problems in school, the better,” stated Los Gatos/Monte Sereno Police Chief Scott Seaman. “Suspensions, or even expulsions, are sometimes necessary, but they can also make matters worse, with students falling behind in school, dropping out and risking involvement with the juvenile justice system.”

Law enforcement leaders said that students must remain in school and off of the street to stay engaged in the classroom and steer clear of crime and delinquency. In many cases, punishing students with out-of-school suspensions and expulsions only exacerbates behavior issues as kids are granted an unsupervised vacation from school. One recent study in Texas found that suspended or expelled students were three times more likely to be in contact with the juvenile justice system within one year compared to similar students with no suspensions and expulsions. Middle and high school students who had been suspended or expelled were also twice as likely to be held back in school and were at greater risk of dropout than their peers. Fight Crime: Invest in Kids California also cited an established correlation between dropping out of school and crime: high school dropouts are eight times more likely than graduates to be incarcerated in their lifetimes and nearly 70 percent of the nation’s state prison population did not have a high school diploma when they entered prison.

“Behavior that used to mean a trip to the principal’s office is now grounds for an out-of-school suspension or even expulsion in some cases,” said Ceres Police Chief Art de Werk. “Sometimes students do need be removed from the classroom to keep others safe, but the punishment must fit the crime. Careful consideration should be given before suspensions are imposed.”

Members of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids California are calling on policymakers to support evidence-based disciplinary approaches that address student behavior issues effectively. These approaches can ultimately improve students’ behavior and academic outcomes, while maximizing time for classroom instruction and minimizing the use of unnecessary suspensions and expulsions. These approaches include:

  • The Good Behavior Game;
  • Incredible Years’ Dinosaur School;
  • Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS);
  • Restorative justice; and
  • Social-emotional skills curricula.

“Research shows that we can get better outcomes for all kids and reduce the need for suspension with the right approach to school discipline,” stated San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos. “Anything that helps keep kids in school, engaged in that classroom as opposed to causing trouble on the streets, gets high marks from law enforcement. We simply must use smart approaches with youth today to prevent criminal activity tomorrow.”

Alternative discipline strategies can also save school districts and localities money. Researchers found a return of $31 for every dollar spent on the Good Behavior Game. Given the link between suspension and grade repetition, limiting the overuse of suspensions with proactive, preventative techniques could help districts avoid paying for extra years of schooling. Similarly, some schools, such as Pioneer High School in Woodland, Calif., have seen increased revenue through reduced suspensions and increased Average Daily Attendance after implementing PBIS.

“While California has made progress in addressing suspensions and expulsions over the last five years, schools today need more guidance, support and resources to effectively train school staff on effective discipline alternatives,” Nevada County Sheriff Keith Royal commented. “We must do all that we can to keep kids in class and help them graduate from high school.”

Local data on suspension and expulsion rates in each of California’s 58 counties is available. To obtain a copy of the full report, or to reach a local law enforcement official for comment, please contact Meghan Moroney, ph: 415-450-1913, email:

Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, is a national crime prevention organization of more than 5,000 police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors, state attorneys general and violence survivors, including more than 425 members in California.



Report: CA School Discipline Report

Local Data: CA Suspension Data[1]

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