New data from Office of Civil Rights: SF Black students suspended six times more than whites

Assembly Education Committee to hear AB 1729 on alternative correction measures plus related bills

by Quintin Mecke

Sacramento – Recently released data from the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education on disproportionate rates of student discipline highlight the need for alternative correction measures in state law to reduce overreliance on school suspensions and expulsions, as written into AB 1729, authored by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco.

Sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union, AB 1729 will be heard today in the Assembly Committee on Education at 1:30 p.m. and will be one of five bills on school discipline on the agenda.

The recently released data reveal that in San Francisco Unified, Black suspension rates are more than six times the rate for whites (14.4 percent vs. 2.2 percent), and the Hispanic expulsion rate is 5 percent. Nationally, Black students were three and a half times as likely to be suspended or expelled than their white peers.

Black males stood out, with 20 percent (one in five) being suspended from school during the 2009-10 school year. By comparison, seven percent of white males, nine percent of Hispanic males and three percent of Asian American males were removed from school for disciplinary offenses. This data is consistent with previous data examined by researchers at the Civil Rights Project out of UCLA.

“Many of us teachers have seen what is now described as the school-to-prison pipeline in our careers, sadly beginning at a very early age in many cases. But to see these trends quantified at both the school and adult corrections level is alarming, and the state needs to help districts deal with this at the front end because I spend many days in Sacramento dealing with the back end – our corrections crisis, and making realignment work because this is where many of these kids end up,” said Ammiano who is chair of the Assembly Committee on Public Safety.

Previous research has shown that school suspensions and expulsions exacerbate school drop-out rates and student performance and lead to many other problems as students are pushed out of the education system and into the criminal justice system. In 2008, the Pew Center on the States’ Public Safety Performance Project released a report noting that for the first time in history, one in 100 adults in the United States was in either jail or prison, a shocking statistic that gloomily shouldn’t have been surprising to anybody who is involved in fixing school discipline policies.

Other studies show little to no difference in student behavior but find stark differences in punishment. AB 1729 reaffirms that superintendents and school principals have the discretion to implement alternatives to suspension and expulsion, and it expands the list of “other means of correction” that must be implemented prior to suspension or expulsion to address most student misbehavior. The bill further requires schools to document efforts to help administrators enact effective means of correction when suspending or expelling a student for a non-mandatory violation.

The bill is designed to correct the root causes of the pupil’s misbehavior, accounting for any individualized educational plans and the age of the student. San Francisco Unified School District has started down the path of restorative practices and has seen suspension rates decline under the new approach. AB 1729 will support these efforts of alternative correction.

The other bills heard on April 11 are:

• AB 2145 (Alejo and Dickinson) – relating to school discipline data

• AB 2242 (Dickinson) – relating to willful defiance and on-campus suspensions

• AB 2537 (V. Manuel Pérez) – relating to expulsions

• AB 2241 (Dickinson) – relating to youth juvenile justice transition

There are also two bills in the Senate on this topic:

• SB 1235 (Steinberg and Price) – relating to alternative correction and data

• SB 1088 (Price) – relating to enrollment or readmission of youth from juvenile justice

Lastly, a new website intended for parents, students, policy makers and researchers has recently gone live:

Quentin Mecke can be reached at