A growing number of teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District are arguing that a new policy implemented in an effort to reduce the number of student suspensions is causing a rise in the number of unruly students in their classrooms.
LAUSD, the second-largest school district in the nation, became the first in California to ban the suspension of students for defiance. Instead, restorative justice policies have been instituted with a focus on counseling and conflict resolution.
However, teachers are arguing that the district did not provide them with enough additional training or staff members to effectively implement the new policies.
Superintendent Ramon Cortines is in agreement with the teachers, saying that although he does support the new policies, they were pushed through by the Board of Education and former Superintendent John Deasy in a flawed manner, comparing it to the efforts to supply every student in the district with an iPad.
"You cannot piecemeal this kind of thing and think it is going to have the impact that it should have. Don't make a political statement and then don't have the wherewithal to back it up."
Districts across the nation are taking a second look at zero-tolerance policies that mete out harsh punishments for even minor infractions. A number of groups continue to argue that these sort of policies affect minority students at a disproportionately high rate, especially African Americans.
As a result, suspensions in LAUSD saw a decrease last year, dropping from 8% in 2007-08 to just 0.55%. Days lost due to suspension also saw a major reduction, going from 75,000 to 5,024 in the same time frame.
So far, assistant superintendent of school operations Earl Perkins reported that one-third of the 900 schools throughout the district have received additional training under the five-year restorative justice implementation plan in place in the district.
Those schools that have gone through the extra training and received additional counselors have said progress is being made. For example, suspensions at Jordan High School in Watts dropped from 22 at this time last year to just one.
However, that does not cover even half of the 181 secondary schools in the district, which have the highest rate of disciplinary problems, writes Teresa Watanabe for The Los Angeles Times.
Community groups continue to suggest that it is too difficult to determine the exact methods being used by schools to handle the unruly students. This is partly due to the fact that the district has not released any data pertaining to indicators, including how many students have been sent to the principal's office in place of being suspended.
The teachers union in the district is currently discussing plans to create its own training sessions as a result of numerous teacher complaints.