02/05/15 New Alternative Discipline Practices in SFUSD Contribute to Decline in Suspensions of African-American Students

New Alternative Discipline Practices in SFUSD Contribute to Decline in Suspensions of African-American Students

Press Release

February 5, 2015 (San Francisco) – New data from the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) show that efforts to build a safer school climate and reduce the disproportionate number of suspensions of African-American students are starting to pay off. Mid-year data show that the number of suspended African-American students is down 17 percent since last school year.

“When students are suspended from school, they are more likely to fall behind academically,” said Superintendent Richard A. Carranza. “Furthermore, research shows that suspensions seldom result in improved student behavior in the long run. In fact, when we don’t address the root problems, the same student is often repeatedly suspended.

“I want to commend everyone in our schools for the diligence they have shown in taking new approaches to addressing student behaviors that are resulting in reduced suspensions while also building a safe school climate,” Carranza added.

Several new efforts began four years ago, in the 2011-2012 school year, when there were 2,298 suspensions in SFUSD schools. The district analyzed the data closely and found that although African-American students constituted only 10.5 percent of the overall student population, they made up nearly half of all suspensions.

District officials set out to address the root causes of disproportionate suspensions to keep more students in school. In 2012 the district submitted a plan to the state for how it would address disproportionate suspensions and referrals to Special Education of African-American students. In 2013 the Board of Education passed the Safe and Supportive Schools resolution. The resolution commits SFUSD to addressing the disparities in issuing office referrals, suspensions, expulsion referrals, and expulsions, all of which result in lost instructional time.

The approaches supported by these plans and other efforts are showing results. In the 2013-2014 school year, overall suspensions dropped by 53 percent to 1,081 students. Midway through the 2014-2015 school year, data show that while the frequency of suspensions remains similar to last year, disproportionality is lower: the percentage of suspended students who are African American is down 17 percent since last year.

District middle schools account for forty percent of the reductions. Middle-school principals were the first to begin implementing a research-proven program called Behavioral Response to Intervention (RtI), a multi-tiered approach to help struggling learners. Students' progress is closely monitored at each stage of intervention to determine the need for further research-based instruction or intervention.

“The foundation for a positive school climate begins with clear and well-known expectations. Appropriate behavior must be enforced school-wide. Our middle-school staff has really taken the lead in learning and adopting new practices at our school sites, and we can see the benefits in this data,” said Superintendent Carranza. “While we celebrate the progress our schools are making, we also acknowledge that we have a long way to go.”

Examples of Safe and Supportive Schools in Action

Three schools presented examples of their safe and supportive practices. Visitacion Valley Elementary School, James Lick Middle School and Civic Center Secondary School staff and students presented to the Board about their unique school programs developed within the RtI framework using Restorative Practices and research-proven curriculum for social-emotional development. 

Visitacion Valley’s principal Johnny Spearmon talked about the benefits of daily check-ins with students, the school-to-home note program, and classroom circles where students talk about their feelings. Paul Quesada from James Lick Middle School addressed themes of safety, responsibility, and being an ally. The school has an RtI facilitator who helps provide lessons for all homeroom teachers.

Elisa Villafuerte and Maurice Harper from Civic Center Secondary School discussed some activities that have helped keep kids in school. Students get raffle tickets for being on time and for positive behavior in class, and a raffle is held at the end of every school day.  Students can also look forward to the assistant principal making waffles for them every Friday morning.

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