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A first-of-its-kind survey of 315 school districts, representing 4.1 million California students, sheds new light on how discipline policies are being implemented in the state.
Conducted in the spring of 2012, the survey of school district administrators most responsible for discipline policies encompassed districts enrolling two-thirds of public school students in California.
There are growing concerns about the effects of discipline policies on schools and students, and especially their disproportionate impact on African American and Latino students. Attempts to reform these policies have gained momentum, most prominently in a series of bills recently approved by the state Legislature and awaiting the governor’s signature.
“As California develops policies to reduce the number of students suspended or expelled, we felt it was important to hear from schools themselves,” said Louis Freedberg, executive director of EdSource. “They are keenly aware of the challenges they face and are actively searching for solutions and support.”
Key findings include:
• School officials express a need for support to more effectively manage discipline issues, including additional school counselors and community resources. More than 80% said the state’s budget crisis has affected their ability to deal with student behavior and discipline.
• School districts are trying a range of alternative approaches to suspension and expulsions. Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) is the most common, but restorative justice, peer mediation and teen courts are among the many other programs also being used.
•    Two-thirds of officials express concern about the differential impact of discipline policies on students from different racial and ethnic backgrounds.
•    Seventy percent of officials report they rely on police officers for student monitoring and disciplinary purposes on all or most of their high school campuses, and more than half use video cameras. But school officials place a far higher priority on more counselors, training of school staff and rehabilitative services for expelled or suspended students than on increased security measures.
•    One in five officials said they have had to expel students as prescribed by state law when they would have preferred a different action. A majority of survey respondents also said it would be helpful to have clearer district-level definitions of the “willful defiance/disruption of school activities” charge, which accounted for 42% of suspensions in the last school year.
•    Discipline policies are evolving, with 70 percent of the districts reporting a substantial revision of their policies at some point during the past five years.
•    Officials say their districts rely heavily on data to evaluate the effectiveness of discipline policies, but 72 percent say they would benefit from more data.

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