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Discipline reform advocates rally at LBSUD board meeting

Press Telegram photo of student protest against expulsions

By Nadra Nittle

Nadra Nittle photo

October 09, 2013


School leaders unanimously approved a new discipline policy for Long Beach-area schools Tuesday, agreeing with more than a 100 students who rallied at the Board of Education meeting that too many kids are being suspended.

With less than 10 minutes of discussion, board members passed a new policy that requires disciplinary steps before a student is kicked out of class, including conferences with teachers and parents and, if the problem persists, referral to a counselor or principal.

"The board urges schools to build upon existing efforts to provide alternatives to suspensions or expulsions using multiple strategies including conflict resolution, individual and schoolwide positive behavior support, and ... the opportunity for students to learn appropriate behaviors," according to the resolution passed Tuesday.

LBUSD suspended 5,069 students during the 2011-12 school year, the most recent year for which suspension data is available, giving the district of then 83,691 students a suspension rate of 5.7 percent. That's a point higher than Los Angeles Unified School District's suspension rate of 4.4.

Students who rallied at Tuesday's meeting said suspension hurts their ability to succeed in class.

"If you're missing school, you're not going to be able to learn," said Mykel Duffey, a 14-year-old freshman at Poly High who is part of the group Every Student Matters, which lobbied for the changes. "One day could have the keys to a test. You could fail because you weren't in class."

Superintendent  Christopher  Stein­hauser also recom­mended ap­proval of the new poli­cy, saying he intro­duced the measure because of new state and federal guide­lines cal­ling for districts to be assessed not only on test scores, but on its general cli­mate. That in­cludes sus­pension rates, absences and gradu­ation rates.

Stein­hauser said Tuesday that LBUSD will begin monitor­ing whether certain schools have a dis­pro­por­tionate­ly high sus­pension rate com­pared to schools with simi­lar student popu­la­tions.

Press Telegram photo of students protesting expulsion guidelines

"We can then dis­cuss what one school is doing, com­pared to another, so that we can build upon best prac­tices, limit sus­pensions and further im­prove student achieve­ment," he said.

In August, LBUSD became one of eight California school districts to receive a No Child Left Behind waiver. Getting the waiver stipulated that LBUSD adopt Common Core stand­ards, which measure a district's "social and emotional" qualities, such as student sus­pensions.

LAUSD announced in May that it would no longer suspend students because of willful defiance.

Advocates for disci­pline reform have taken particular aim at sus­pensions based on willful defiance because they say the defi­nition for that infrac­tion is unclear, as any stu­dent who fails to comply with a teacher's in­struc­tions could po­tential­ly be punished for will­ful de­fiance.

An examination of willful defiance suspensions in LBUSD for the 2011-12 school year indicates that African- American students are over­repre­sented for such sus­pensions. That school year, there were 3,972 in-school and out-of-school sus­pensions for will­ful defiance, ac­cording to the California Depart­ment of Education. Al­though black students made up only 15.7 per­cent of LBUSD stu­dents at that time, they ac­counted for 38 percent of will­ful defiance susvpensions.

Alisha Sim, 16, a student at Poly High, said Tuesday she was suspended after being tardy a few times to class.

"I didn't fall behind (in class) because I always went back to the class to catch up at the end of the day," she said, adding that most students don't take that extra step.

She and other students held signs that said "Education not Incarceration" and "Every Student Matters." About 50 students took up half of the board room, wearing Every Student Matters T-shirts.

Several school leaders praised the action of students, including board member Felton Williams.

"Your concerns and dis­cus­sion about those conc­erns were very well- presented," he said. "You acted like Long Beach Unified School students."