California law and school policies that allow officials to suspend students for “willful defiance” in the classroom has been overused and are contrary to the goals of school boards to help every student find an avenue to success, according to a Friday presentation by representatives of the Los Angeles-based “Every Student Matters Campaign” at a session of thee National School Boards Association’s (NSBA) Council of Urban Boards of Education.
The campaign, which successfully advocated for five new laws involving school discipline in California, is a part of a $25 million effort to address issues involving boys and men of color through community organizing. The campaign is funded by a group called the California Endowment.
School policies and procedures for discipline and school safety are often counterproductive because they are punitive and are used, unfairly, to exclude students from school, said Tonna Onyendu, campaign manager.
Disciplinary action such as suspension might be appropriate for a student who demonstrates “willful defiance” by threatening a teacher, but it has been used against students who put their heads down and fail to participate and have engaged in other behaviors that can easily be explained by tumultuous circumstances in the students’ home life, Onyendu said.
Echoing a resolution passed by the NSBA Delegate Assembly Friday, he said out-of-school suspensions should be used as a last resort.
While many districts have boosted use of school resource officers in the wake of the Newtown shootings, Onyendu said having police officers in schools can lead to too many offenses being handled as criminal matters when it would be more appropriate to have the incident handled by school administrators as a disciplinary matter.
Onyendu said his group is working at the local level to have school districts recognize a student bill of rights related to discipline. Items include the right of students to have:
• Positive behavioral interventions and support – a widely used approach often referred to as PBIS.
• Alternatives to suspension as penalties for certain offenses.
• Access to data on student discipline.
• Community oversight mechanisms.
— Eric Randall