RICHMOND -- Citing the loss of school funding based on daily attendance and damage to student learning, the West Contra Costa school district has set a goal of lowering suspensions by 25 percent.
The school board approved the resolution Wednesday evening. It mandates that each of the district's middle and high schools develop a plan to meet the goal.
Kennedy High School in Richmond, which has had a greater-than-average problem with suspensions, has created a pilot plan for the reductions.
Some of the measures taken at Kennedy include offering drug and alcohol counseling to students who are suspended for being under the influence and establishing a "suspension room" where students who have been tossed out of class can work under the supervision of a credentialed teacher without leaving the campus, said assistant principal Jessica Smith-Kennan.
"In-house suspension makes a massive difference," Smith-Kennan said. "As long as they are learning in some kind of way, it makes it worth the time."
Alcohol and drug counseling may be covered if students are eligible for Medi-Cal or other government aid, she said. For others, the school is reaching out to community-based organizations for help.
"When community-based programs provide support, the response to opportunity for counseling explodes," Smith-Kennan said.
Tightening enforcement of campus policies, such as a ban on cellphones and a prohibition against students wandering
African-American students, in particular, are hurt disproportionately by suspensions, said Hercules Middle/High School Principal Jennifer Bender. Half of the 390 suspensions at her school last year were to African-Americans, who make up 25 percent of the school's population, she said.
"Students get a three-day suspension for cutting one class, and they often treat it as a reward," Bender said.
Individual campus goals range from a 50 percent reduction at DeJean Middle School in Richmond to a 10 percent reduction at Richmond High, which has already made efforts to reduce suspensions, and 15 percent goals at El Cerrito High and Portola Middle School in El Cerrito.
About 400,000 public school students were suspended statewide last year, said board member Elaine Merriweather.
"I was skeptical at first, but we have resolved to get things done," said board President Charles Ramsey. "We are trying to tackle an issue that has plagued communities for so long."
The board also heard about plans for a Global Youth Service Day in Richmond.
The city has received a grant to take part in the worldwide event April 26 to 28.
About 600 Richmond youths are expected to participate, said Bertha Romo, a Richmond High graduate who is interning in the city manager's office.
Youth groups will investigate a community need, plan projects, carry them out and evaluate them with the guidance of adult supervisors, she said.
Romo described a project already completed where a youth group prepared and delivered gift bags to 45 residents of a Richmond senior center.