The number of students suspended or expelled from California schools has plunged, according to data released Wednesday by the state Department of Education.
The Los Angeles Unified School District, the state’s largest school system, strongly influenced those trends with a dramatic 53% drop in the number of students suspended.
California student suspensions last year decreased by 15% and by 24% over two years. Last year, the number of students expelled dropped by 20%, and 31% over two years.
“These numbers show that the work of the department, districts, teachers, parents and students around the state is paying off by keeping more students in school and learning,” said Tom Torlakson, the state superintendent of public instruction. “You can have the best facilities, the best teachers, and the best curriculum in the world, but none of that matters if students are not in school.”
In L.A. Unified, which enrolls about 11% of students in the state, the number of expulsions has remained fairly consistent over several years -- and lower when compared with many districts. The dramatic change has been in suspensions. In the 2011-12 school year, L.A. Unified suspended 18,888 students, according to state figures. Over the next two years, the number declined to 11,898 and 8,864, a 53% decline over that span.
The state's rate of suspension is more than three times higher than that of L.A. Unified.
The push to reduce suspensions -- especially the higher rates for black and Latino boys -- was championed by former L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy, who resigned under pressure in October.
In 2011, Deasy mandated that only administrators could authorize a suspension that sent a student home from school. And in 2013, the Board of Education, following Deasy’s lead, banned suspensions for willful defiance, a policy that recently became state law.
“Our efforts are seeing results, and our momentum is starting to push the state,” said Lydia Ramos, a spokeswoman for L.A. Unified. “It’s really a matter of how are we supporting our students so they succeed.”
“Discipline doesn’t have to be negative,” said Isabel Villalobos, who heads the district’s student discipline team.
The L.A. teachers union has supported such reforms but said Deasy’s administration provided too little assistance to help teachers cope with discipline problems, resulting in disrupted classrooms. Allegations also have emerged that some principals sent students home without calling the action a suspension, thus reducing the number of recorded suspensions.
A drop in suspensions leads to higher graduation rates and improved reading scores, according to the advocacy group Fix School Discipline.
But more needs to be done, said Laura Faer, the statewide education director for Public Counsel Law Center.
“The state of California should track whether classrooms are truly welcoming for students and educators,” Faer said. “And whether educators are receiving the support they need to assist students who struggle with trauma, social emotional learning and behavior.”