Under pressure to cut racial disparities in punishment and to keep misbehaving kids in school, California public schools suspended fewer students in 2012-13, with some Bay Area districts posting dramatic drops.

Statewide, the number of suspensions fell 14 percent, to 609,471. In several Bay Area districts that have focused on alternative disciplinary approaches, the numbers dipped even more sharply. Suspensions dropped 65 percent in John Swett Unified. The Newark, Pleasanton, San Leandro and Jefferson High districts reduced suspensions by more than 40 percent. They dropped more than 30 percent in the Albany, CampbellHigh, Gilroy, Milpitas, Palo Alto and San Mateo High districts.

The decline indicates that schools have taken to heart the growing criticism about how they handle disobedient students. Civil rights groups, children's advocates and politicians have pressed to revamp schools' discipline, arguing that sending students out of school, often to spend all day on the Internet or roaming the streets, not only costs precious learning time but also creates dropouts, pushes many toward crime and disproportionately punishes minorities.

Among reasons for suspensions, the largest decline came in "willful defiance," which civil rights groups have accused schools of using as a catchall category for discipline for what the groups say are undeserved reasons.

Instead, schools have focused on imposing consequences on campus.


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"We've moved away from punitive discipline to a restorative justice model," said Oakland Unified spokesman Troy Flint, a model that emphasizes taking responsibility for the harm done, reconciling the perpetrator and victim and healing the community.

At the same time, he said, the district still needs to eliminate racial disparities in discipline.

Statewide, the number of students suspended dropped among almost every racial and ethnic group, although disparities still exist. African-Americans make up 6 percent of enrollment statewide but received 16 percent of suspensions. Latinos, who make up 53 percent of enrollment, received 55 percent of suspensions.

The Jefferson Union High School District overhauled its discipline policy after being singled out in 2012 as having the second-highest suspension rate for African-American students in the state.

The Daly City district's suspensions fell 24 percent for African-American students last school year. Jefferson created an array of punishments for violating rules, ranging from detention, litter pickup, parent meetings and loss of activities, such as sports teams or clubs. While the new process works, "we're still not where we want to be," Associate Superintendent Sherry Segalas said.

"For kids who don't bring their materials to school," Segalas said, teachers are told: "You need to deal with that."

Many teachers privately have said that pressure not to suspend scofflaws has increased disruption in classrooms, unfairly penalizing students who want to learn. And some teachers cited instances of being forced to keep students who pose a safety threat to others.

However, East Side Union Superintendent Chris Funk said that annual surveys at two schools with high reductions in suspensions have not indicated that teachers feel less safe or notice more disruptions.

Some districts said that their new approaches to punishment were not yet reflected in the numbers. In San Jose Unified, where suspensions increased 2 percent, spokeswoman Traci Cook said the district has pushed harder to intervene before students reach a disciplinary step, and so far this year, suspensions lag where they were at the same point last year.

The state also released figures on expulsions, which declined statewide by 12 percent, although the change varied widely among districts.

In East Side Union, 41 students were expelled last school year, five students or 14 percent more than the previous year. Superintendent Funk said the increase correlates with the proliferation of medical marijuana dispensaries -- now numbering more than 100 in San Jose -- near schools. Dealing drugs, like bringing weapons on campus, means automatic expulsion.

Some schools contend the state numbers are misleading, incomplete or even inaccurate. The Department of Education figures indicate a 30 percent increase in expulsions in Oakland Unified, but spokesman Flint said that district's schools cut expulsions by more than half; he said that 40 of the 52 expulsions the state listed for the district were handled by charter schools independent of the district.

Contact Sharon Noguchi at 408-271-3775. Follow her at Twitter.com/NoguchiOnK12.

Change in school suspensions
The chart shows the percentage change in suspensions school districts handed out, from 2011-12 to 2012-13. A negative number indicates a decline in suspensions.*
SAN MATEO COUNTY (all schools) -25%
Cabrillo Unified -30%
Jefferson Union High -42%
La Honda-Pescadero Unified -2%
San Mateo County Office of Education 5%
San Mateo Union High -36%
Sequoia Union High -6%
South San Francisco Unified -15%

SANTA CLARA COUNTY (all schools) -17%
Campbell Union High -40%
East Side Union High -25%
Fremont Union High 60%
Gilroy Unified -39%
Los Gatos-Saratoga Joint Union High -1%
Milpitas Unified -34%
Morgan Hill Unified insufficient data
Mountain View-Los Altos Union High insufficient data
Palo Alto Unified -36%
San Jose Unified 2%
Santa Clara County Office of Education 34%
Santa Clara Unified -22%

* The chart lists only districts with high schools
Source: California Department of Education

Change in school suspensions
The chart shows the percentage change in suspensions school districts handed out, from 2011-12 to 2012-13. The list omits some smaller districts and those with insufficient data.*
ALAMEDA COUNTY (all schools) -23%
Alameda City Unified -23%
Albany City Unified -39%
Berkeley Unified -15%
Castro Valley Unified -29%
Dublin Unified -28%
Fremont Unified -17%
Hayward Unified 25%
Newark Unified -42%
Oakland Unified -29%
Pleasanton Unified -41%
San Leandro Unified -43%
San Lorenzo Unified -19%

CONTRA COSTA COUNTY (all schools) 10%
Acalanes Union High -5%
John Swett Unified -65%
Liberty Union High -27%
Mt. Diablo Unified -28%
Pittsburg Unified -18%
San Ramon Valley Unified -11%
West Contra Costa Unified -5%

* The chart lists only districts with high schools
Source: California Department of Education