The Los Angeles Unified School District, the country’s second largest with about 600,000 students, has decided not to suspend students for willful defiance—things like refusing to remove a hat, turn off a cellphone, etc.—because, they have found, removal of students from class harms their academic progress, the New York Times reports.
About 48 percent of the 710,000 suspensions in the 2011-12 school year were for willful defiance, and about 26 percent of the suspended students were African-American. Blacks account for about 9 percent of the student population in public schools in the L.A. Unified School District.
“Now we’ll have a better chance to stay in school and become something,” the Los Angeles Times quoted one 14-year-old as saying after the school board passed the resolution.
An August 2010 report to the Maryland State Board of Education found a similar problem in Maryland: “Of the 153,110 total offenses [which resulted in suspensions during the 2008-09 school year], more than 58,000 were for disrespect, insubordination, or disruption.” That statewide number represents about 38 percent, about 10 percent below the L.A. number.
Suspensions in Maryland also have a disproportionate impact on students with disabilities, especially black students with disabilities: “Of the 12,571 students with disabilities suspended [in the 2008-09 school year across Maryland], 7,670 were African-American students,” the report said. That’s about 61 percent.
Maryland’s board recommended that suspension be used as a last resort, not a first line of defense for managing the school setting: “By reducing the use of suspension for less serious incidents, school systems will be able to focus on the more challenging behaviors and provide much-needed educational and behavior support services for students involved in those cases.”
And it also concluded that the disruption to suspended students, in terms of educational services, should be mitigated:
In its August 2009 decision in Atanya C. v. Dorchester County Board of Education, … the Maryland State Board of Education expressed concerns about the lack of educational services to students who are placed on long-term suspension or expelled. … The [Maryland State] Department [of Education] developed a web-based survey … which resulted in over 4,000 responses. While the general public supports using suspension or expulsion in the cases of certain types of misbehavior, respondents overwhelmingly indicated that educational services should be provided …
Despite statewide recommendations of the Maryland state board, the L.A. Unified School District is said to be the first large school district to place a ban on suspending students for minor class disruptions.
In Illinois, the numbers are tilted even more toward African-Americans. In the 2011-12 school year, 126,537 students received one- to three-day, out-of-school suspensions more than once. Of those, 70.629 were black, representing about 56 percent of all students who were suspended more than once. Blacks make up about 18 percent of the Illinois student population.