By Megan Burks
A growing body of research suggests school discipline is too harsh, sending kids out of the classroom—and potentially down a path of low educational attainment and incarceration, according to some studies—for vague or innocuous offenses.
State data show California schools handed down more than 700,000 suspensions during the 2009-2010 school year. Students of color were affected the most.
This week, we shared how two City Heights schools are working to reduce the school pushout. Cherokee Point Elementary is honing discipline strategies that heal rather than harm misbehaving students. Monroe Clark Middle is working to reduce its high suspension rate by addressing behavior issues early and being clear about their consequences.
To bring you these stories, we teamed up with the Investigative Newsource to first see whether the state’s suspension and expulsion trends hold true in City Heights. With it being one of San Diego’s poorest, most diverse neighborhoods, I expected they would.
It turns out, I wasn’t exactly right.
City Heights schools belong to a district that ranks pretty well for suspension risk—273rd out of 490 California school districts. Suspensions in San Diego Unified dropped 8 percent since 2006. City Heights schools followed suit, dropping suspensions about 7 percent.
The decrease in expulsion rates was more dramatic: 45 percent for the district and 25 percent for City Heights. Nearly all of the expulsions were for violent or drug-related offenses. About 60 percent of suspensions in City Heights were also for serious offenses.
The community’s elementary schools are more likely to keep students in class than schools in the district, county and state. Its high school suspension rate is just a few percentage points higher than the state’s.
Where City Heights educators fell short was in middle schools. The rate of middle school suspensions in City Heights is 10 percentage points higher than the state’s. At Monroe Clark, 40 per 100 students were suspended last year.
“Middle schoolers have a lot of transition they’re going through at that time,” Loretta Middleton of the San Diego County Office of Education told Investigative Newsource reporter Kevin Crowe. “They don’t know how to manage their changing lives.”
But angst alone doesn’t explain why City Heights’ preteens are suspended more than their peers elsewhere.
What are your thoughts? Why do City Heights middle schools issue more suspensions and what can they do to reduce them?
We’d also love to hear your thoughts on any of the data presented above. Leave a comment, write a letter to the editor or get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.