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'Potty training to punishment' | SCUSD suspends Black kids at high rates

The statewide suspension average is 3.5%, but the Sacramento City Unified School District suspends Black boys at five times that rate, according to a study.

SAN DIEGO — A new report shows the Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD) has one of the highest suspension rates for Black boys in the state of California.

The Capital of School Suspensions II report says Black males are five times more likely to be suspended from SCUSD. The statewide suspension average is 3.5%, according to the report, which uses data from the California Department of Education. The report is a follow up to one completed in 2018.

"It affects student's learning, growth, and development in school if they're constantly being suspended or expelled. It directly relates to individual's later reliance on social services, so there's definite economic impacts. There's even greater impacts when we consider the direct linkage that research has shown between suspensions and the school-to-prison pipeline," said Dr. J. Luke Wood, co-author of the report and education professor at San Diego State University.

Cesar Chavez Intermediate has the highest rate of suspension for Black boys at 45.8% and John D. Sloat Elementary has the highest suspension rate for Black girls at 26.8%, according to the report.

Eracleo Guevara, principal of Cesar Chavez, said the initial 2018 report was impactful and led the school to a "transformation." 

"What is reflected in the most recent report is not what you will see on our campus today, as we have implemented changes to address the disproportionate discipline of Black students, as found in the 2018 report. Through this work, we have made systemic improvements to ensure that we are meeting the needs of all of our students. We are no longer where we once were, and we do not plan on going back to that place ever again,” Guevara said.  

Dr. Wood said past studies have shown that invariably the disproportionate rate of suspensions comes down to differences in racial background.

"Unfortunately, what we find is that Black students overall, and particularly Black boys, are treated very differently from all other students and this behavior begins in the earliest levels of education where they are suspected of wrongdoing simply for being Black," Dr. Wood said.

Dr. Wood explained that Black students are more closely watched by educators and labeled as being bad, aggressive, and defiant. 

"As a result, we see they are singled out for punishment and when they are given disciplinary action, we oftentimes find that is more prolonged and more intense than it is for other students," Dr. Wood said.

Dr. Wood said there is a direct linkage between what's seen in issues of policing and what's seen in school.

"In policing we know that Black people are hyper-criminalized and undervalued in terms of their lives...but we also know that in education, those same patterns take place for Black students where their participation, involvement, and engagement is undervalued, and they are over-criminalized," Dr. Wood pointed out.

The report outlines several recommendations SCUSD can take to reduce the number of suspensions for Black students, including:

  • Implement intensive, ongoing professional development for all educators on unconscious bias, racial microaggressions, culturally mediated behaviors, and teaching practices for boys and young men of color.
  • Initiate district-level plans to reduce suspensions that identify areas in need of attention, specify planned interventions, and track the effectiveness of these interventions over time.
  • Require that advocates be involved as independent representatives for any foster youth who is subject to suspension.
  • Provide avenues for students to report educators who they feel are unduly “targeting” them for discipline and follow up with students afterward. 
  • Employ restorative justice as an alternative to school suspension in an effort to build communities and “restore” relationships between all affected parties after an incident has occurred.

Over the summer, SCUSD addressed its high rate of suspension in a statement entitled Addressing Racism in the Sac City Unified Community

"The District has undertaken a number of critical steps to confront inequities for students, particularly with respect to academic and discipline-related outcomes of our Black students," the statement says. The district included its support of a statewide effort (SB 419, Skinner 2019) to end willful defiance as a catch-all for suspension and its adoption of a Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS), designed to strengthen efforts to address academic, behavioral, and social and emotional learning. 

"This MTSS system is aligned with our vision of restorative practices which would help shift “discipline paradigms from reactive to restoratively practice” and help Sac City Unified manage institutional racism and reliance on suspension as a form of correction," the district said.

Last week, SCUSD began a series of professional development training for principals on the effective implementation of antiracism in the classroom. 

"It is easy to call out injustice, racist attitudes, and racist behaviors. It is much harder to acknowledge and confront our own role in how racism is deeply rooted in the system that we are responsible for overseeing here in Sac City Unified and what we can do to disrupt it. I acknowledge that this is a long-term journey and that it will require all of us to stay committed to the process," said SCUSD Superintendent Jorge Aguilar.

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