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LAUSD: willful defiance no longer a suspendable offense


The Los Angeles Unified School District board voted Tuesday 5-2 to adopt the School Climate Bill of Rights, which consists of a resolution that bans “willful defiance” suspensions and directs LAUSD to enact common-sense approaches to school discipline and expand programs that support all students in becoming healthy, thriving adults.

In addition to banning the catchall, subjective willful defiance reason for suspension, the resolution requires that the role of school police officers be clarified and that alternative punishments move up in the discipline process.

The next step in the process is to revise the district’s discipline policy to reflect the change; develop training programs for administrators, teachers, students and parents to help them understand the new policy; to encourage schools to develop alternative disciplines; and to enable an already existing School Wide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports task force to establish guidelines.

With passage of the legislation, LAUSD becomes the first major school district in the state and nation to pass such a ban, according to Brothers Sons Selves spokesman Lester Garcia. He added that the resolution is also designed to shift school discipline toward dialoguing with students to get to the bottom of inappropriate behavior.

The vote follows a hearing on harsh discipline policies held recently in downtown Los Angeles by the California Assembly Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color.

The meeting showcased promising policy in the field and existing work to advance positive school discipline reform in Los Angeles and across California.

According to hearing organizers, more evidence demonstrates that harsh discipline methods and policies such as “zero-tolerance” do not work to promote school safety or better-run classrooms, and unfairly target boys and young men of color, damaging their opportunities to thrive and succeed.

Due in part to such policies, the state currently suspends more students than it sends to college–more than 700,000 annually.

African American youth are disproportionately impacted by suspensions. For example, according to Garcia of Brothers Sons Selves, Black students represent about 9 percent of the LAUSD enrollment, but 26 percent of suspensions. The numbers are even more telling at the individual school level. At Fremont High, for example, during the 2011-12 school year 10 percent of the students were African American, but they represented 42 percent of suspensions.

Robert K. Ross, Ph.D., head of the California Endowment, noted during a recent Black education summit that if an African American child is suspended just once in their school career, it reduces the chances of attending college by 40 percent while a second suspension reduces the chances by 70 percent.

“Today, our youth rights agenda moves forward as the LAUSD joins our community in accepting the responsibility to support the School Discipline Policy and School Climate Bill of Rights,” said Board President Mónica García shortly after the resolution passed. “This resolution means more graduations, less incarceration, it means adults must learn new strategies to teach and practice new discipline policies that support student success.”

Brothers Sons Selves, one of the major supporters of the LAUSD initiative, believes that as the majority of students in Los Angeles County young people of color have a vital role to play in making our neighborhoods safer, our economy stronger and steering our city and state towards success. Yet low-income and young men of color have the lowest life expectancy rates, highest unemployment rates, fewest high school and college graduates and most murder victims of any demographic group in Los Angeles. This reality starts in school policies that unfairly target students of color for suspensions which ultimately lead to truancy and dropouts.

“This vote is an important first step in our effort to ensure that every student has an opportunity to thrive,” said Kafi D. Blumenfield, president and CEO of Liberty Hill Foundation, which has been managing the campaign to change suspension policies. “Passage of the School Climate Bill of Rights signals that L.A. truly wants all students to lead healthy, successful lives.”

Brothers Sons Selves is a coalition of Los Angeles community organizations working toward a common agenda to improve the lives of young men and was created in partnership with The California Endowment. The groups include Inner City Struggle, The Community Coalition, the Brotherhood Crusade and CADRE.

Passage of the school climate resolution is the second step on the road to instituting a practice of positive discipline. In 2007, LAUSD took a first step in addressing school discipline by adopting the School Wide Positive Behavioral and Intervention Supports policy. The School Climate Bill of Rights builds on that effort to ensure that all Los Angeles schools create learning environments that are safe, healthy and supportive for all students.

The resolution will require schools to use measures other than suspension to address minor student infractions, including setting clearer expectations and providing counseling to get at the root of bad behavior when possible. Both of these techniques have been found to be more effective approaches.

Schools also have the option to pilot additional programs that might prove even more useful, such as detention, or setting up a special classroom, with schoolwork to be done and tutors available, so that students who face disciplinary measures don’t fall behind in their studies.