New Research from UCLA Civil Rights Project Urges End to School Suspensions

Research by Center for Civil Rights Remedies prioritizes supportive services, not police.

Amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, the UCLA Civil Rights Project’s Center for Civil Rights Remedies has released important new research analyzing school suspension data for public K-12 schools in California, as well as the relationship between suspensions and security officer presence on high school campuses.

Daniel J. Losen is the director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies, an initiative of the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles at UCLA. Courtesy of the Civil Rights Project

The report, Is California Doing Enough to Close the School Discipline Gap?, offers a seven-year trend analysis indicating that while California has seen a decline in the use of suspensions in schools, the pace of the decline has slowed and large racial disparities in suspension rates remain. The research also documents how rates of lost instruction tend to rise as rates of security officers-to-students rise across the state’s high schools, with the correlation strongest for Black students. Finally, the report describes how some districts have very high rates of referrals to law enforcement and school-based arrests, while others are failing to report these data to the public despite legal requirements to do so.

“The pandemic is magnifying inequities in educational opportunities and outcomes for California’s low-income students, students of color, and students with disabilities already facing disparate rates of school suspensions,” said Daniel J. Losen, co-author of the report and director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies. “When schools reopen, students will need more support than ever before. It would be a tragedy to add to the disparate days of exclusion from instruction already lost if schools continued to unnecessarily suspend students or invoke school security officers when responding to typical adolescent behavior, particularly behavior by students of color and those with disabilities.” 

California currently includes high suspension rates as an accountability factor for the state-wide system of accountability. In 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom signed legislation that permanently ended suspensions and expulsions for the minor misconduct category of disruption or defiance in grades K-3 (first implemented in 2015), and expanded it to cover students through grade 8, starting with the 2019-20 academic year. Los Angeles and other school districts led the way eliminating the category in K-12, beginning in January 2015. The new research demonstrates that the state and those districts making the most progress have not seen backlash in higher suspensions in other categories.

The report found that state data trends reflect a positive impact stemming from these reforms. However, the report also found that students with disabilities, students of color -particularly Black students – and low-income students, continue experiencing deep inequities: 

  • White students without disabilities, who were not low-income, lost five days per 100 enrolled across K-12. 
  • However, White males with disabilities from low-income families in grades 7-8 lost 89 days per 100 enrolled.  
  • Poverty and disability do not explain away the racial differences as Native American male students meeting these same criteria lost 107 days per 100 enrolled.
  • And Black male students with disabilities in grades 7-8 from low-income households lost instruction at the disturbing rate of 149 days per every 100 enrolled. 

“Every student has the right to a quality education, but not all California students have equal access to one,” said Paul Martinez, Losen’s co-author and research associate at the Center for Civil Rights Remedies. “A major and persistent contributor to inequity in students’ opportunity to learn is learning loss resulting from school suspensions. These inequities existed long before COVID-19, but the pandemic’s impacts will be beyond devastating to entire generations of California students if schools don’t act.”

The report also found that several districts throughout California actually saw an increase in the rates of lost instruction due to suspensions, especially for students of color. Antioch, Morongo, Colton, Southern Kern, and Barstow Unified School Districts had the largest increases in the state. Additionally, alternative schools run by the County Office of Education in each county often had suspension rates that were far higher than regular school districts and their suspension rates were much greater than statewide averages for all groups of students.  

“California schools will never close the achievement gap if they don’t close the discipline gap,” said Losen. “Facing unprecedented challenges and budget cuts when they re-open, school districts will have to focus on more equitable policy and personnel choices to end injustice resulting from unnecessary suspensions and to ensure that all students have an equal opportunity to learn.”

For a copy of the report, visit:  https://tinyurl.com/yd5hvfye

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