Los Angeles Bans Suspensions for Acts of ‘Willful Defiance’

Tuesday the Los Angeles Unified District School Board voted to ban suspensions for “willful defiance”. Starting next year alternative disciplinary measures will be taken for infractions such as dress code violations, eating in the classroom and mouthing off to teachers instead of the traditional suspension, reports Vanessa Romo on Takepart.com.

This change is being instituted with the knowledge that taking kids out of the classroom does not prove to be an effective method when disciplining students with behavioral issues. LAUSD officials also hope that it will help eliminate racial profiling in the classroom.

The U.S. Department of Education conducted a study that showed African-American students are suspended over three times as often as white students.

 “In LAUSD, African-American children make up nine percent of the student body, but they account for 26 percent of all suspensions, nearly half of which are for willful defiance offenses.”

The district has yet to outline a budget, causing administrators to worry about the reality of the plan. In order to have effective support for students, the schools would likely need to hire addition personnel.

Lack of staff in schools is already a problem:

 “Currently in LAUSD, the school personnel-to-students ratio is at an all-time high. Public elementary schools must have more than 1,150 students before an assistant principal is assigned. Ideally, said Perez, there should be one for every 700 students. She calls the counselor ratio “horrendous.” The average high school counselor is responsible for 500 students.”

Despite the fact that it will require a lot of work from the schools, the benefits are well worth it, as demonstrated in East Los Angeles at Garfield High School. The students, faculty and community groups all signed “promise letters” to do whatever it takes to turn the school around and avoid a district take over. After three years with long hours put in by teachers developing behavioral plans for individual students, as well as alternative disciplinary methods in the classroom, the school was able to raise its API score by 114 points and keep control.

Takepart.com’s Kristen Kloberdanz reports another successful switch from traditional suspensions to a restorative justice system in the Oakland Unified School District.

The system includes a three tier model including prevention, repairing harm and alternatives to suspension with support for re-entry. The first tier ensures that the students are made to feel they are important and that they are learning in a caring environment. The second replaces suspension with counseling, peer circle groups, and peer mediation. The third welcomes students back to school with open arms who have been expelled from other schools or previously incarcerated.

“In 2007, restorative justice was tested at an Oakland middle school that had a high expulsion and suspension rates. Within three years, suspensions were reduced by 87 percent and there were no more expulsions. This year a three-tiered model of whole school restorative justice, which includes professional development and coaching, is being provided to 13 OESD pilot sites.”