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The number of students being suspended or expelled in California declined sharply during the last school year as more schools and districts put into place measures designed to keep young people in the classroom and learning, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced.

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Across the state, the total number of expulsions decreased by 12.3 percent, from 9,758 in 2011-12 to 8,562 in 2012-13. The total number of suspensions—either in-school or out of school—dropped 14.1 percent, from 709,596 in 2011-12 to 609,471 in 2012-13.

“Educators across California work hard to keep students in school and learning,” Torlakson said. “It can be a challenge to find the balance between maintaining a safe learning environment and giving young people the tools and opportunities they need to succeed. But we’re working with schools and districts throughout the state to do exactly that.”

A review of almost every ethnic subgroup of students, particularly the larger subgroups, shows substantially fewer of them were suspended. Among African-American students, 53,187 were suspended in 2012-13, down 5,606 or 9.5 percent from the year before. Among Hispanic students, 179,867 were suspended in 2012-13, down 20,416 or 10.2 percent from the year before. Among white students, 68,913 were suspended, down 8,363 or 10.8 percent from the year before.

Still, disparities exist in the rates of suspension. For example, African-American students make up 6.3 percent of total enrollment, but 16.2 percent of suspensions. Hispanic students make up 52.7 percent of total enrollment, but 54.6 percent of suspensions. White students make up 25.5 percent of total enrollment, but 20.9 percent of suspensions.

“This is the first time we have had this level of data to compare from one year to the next, and that’s valuable information for districts as they consider their practices moving forward,” Torlakson said. “Although fewer students are being removed from the classroom in every demographic across the state, the rates remain troubling and show that educators and school communities have a long road ahead.”

Statewide, “student defiance” is an often reported reason for suspensions. This area also saw the largest declines. There were a total of 259,875 suspensions statewide for defiance in 2012-13, down 81,237 or 23.8 percent, compared to the year before. There were a total of 8,562 expulsions for 2012-13, of which defiance was the most serious offense in 495 of these expulsions, down 113 or 18.6 percent from the year before.

Los Angeles Unified School District made major policy shifts and adopted a “restorative justice” program to teach students a set of principles and practices centered on promoting respect, taking responsibility, and strengthening relationships instead of suspending students for defiance-related offenses, resulting in a 37.5 percent drop in suspensions and a 15.1 percent drop in expulsions.

Vallejo City Unified School District also implemented practices revolving around restorative justice and school-wide positive behavioral interventions and supports, resulting in a 25 percent drop in suspensions. Napa Valley Unified School District implemented a school-wide positive behavior interventions and supports program as well, resulting in an 18.9 percent drop in suspensions and a 75.5 drop in expulsions.

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