SFUSD cuts student suspension rate in half 

click to enlarge Instead of suspensions, the San Francisco Unified School District has focused on restorative practices in order to keep troubled students on the path to graduation. - MIKE KOOZMIN/S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • mike koozmin/s.f. examiner file photo
  • Instead of suspensions, the San Francisco Unified School District has focused on restorative practices in order to keep troubled students on the path to graduation.

Student suspensions in San Francisco public schools have dropped by nearly 50 percent in the past three school years, largely due to the district's expanded support programs for troubled students and its different approach to addressing student behavior.

The San Francisco Unified School District recorded 2,311 suspensions in 2011-12, compared with 1,177 this past school year, said Thomas Graven, executive director for the SFUSD's student, family and community support department.

Additionally, suspension rates among black and Latino students -- who historically have been suspended more often than other students in the SFUSD -- were cut in half as well.

In 2011-12, black students accounted for 1,063 suspensions, while Latino students were suspended 698 times. In 2013-14, those numbers dropped to 576 and 344, respectively.

"Things are moving pretty dramatically in the right direction," Graven said. "The suspension decline is absolutely massive and unprecedented."

However, he added, the SFUSD still has a disproportionate number of minorities who are suspended -- 46 percent of overall suspensions in 2011-12 were black students and 30.2 percent were Latino, while in 2013-14, black students made up 48.9 percent of suspensions and Latino students 29.2 percent. The district is seeking to balance this through a number of programs that are set to be amplified in the coming school year.

Instead of suspensions, the SFUSD has long favored restorative practices, which focus on creating positive relationships with students while keeping them in school. Superintendent Richard Carranza has repeatedly emphasized that as a priority, and earlier this year the Board of Education approved the Safe and Supportive Schools Policy, making the SFUSD the second district in California to officially favor restorative practices instead of suspensions.

The district is set to increase its efforts to reduce suspensions through new and expanded initiatives when the school year begins Aug. 18.

In the 2014-15 school year, 85 of the district's 103 schools are expected to receive training for Behavior Response to Intervention, a proactive approach to supporting students so they don't get suspended or removed from class. Another component, social-emotional learning, teaches kids how to be emotionally healthy in schools -- for instance, what to do if a student sees another kid sitting alone in the cafeteria.

Schools will establish behavior matrices to ensure consistency in student expectations. For instance, if a teacher says to a class, "Don't you think it's time to put your books away?" students could interpret that as a question and therefore not follow the command, Graven explained.

More schools will also begin using an online system that tracks when a teacher sends a student to a counselor or principal.

In addition, the SFUSD will continue a successful program on Saturdays that was a pilot program this spring for students who face suspensions. Of the 72 students who participated, only one reoffended, Graven said.

And the SFUSD will prohibit suspensions for defiant behavior, implementing Behavioral Action Teams to offer a multi-disciplinary approach to supporting schools.

V. Kanani Choy, who is entering her 10th year as principal of Robert Louis Stevenson Elementary School in the Sunset, has for years relied on alternatives to suspensions. No students have been suspended from her school in the past five years, she said.

"Suspension doesn't have very much benefit for anybody," Choy said. "When you go punitive, there's no long-term benefit, and you've not strengthened your relationship with the child or the family."

Instead of sending a student home as punishment, Choy pairs teachers with challenging students and encourages restorative practices such as using effective language.

"It's not like we don't have any form of suspension or time out, but we don't call it that," Choy explained. "We try to accommodate within the school-day alternatives that serve the same purpose."

Dramatic drop

Total suspensions in the SFUSD during the past five school years:

2009-10: 3,098

2010-11: 2,824

2011-12: 2,311

2012-13: 1,921

2013-14: 1,177

Source: SFUSD

About The Author

Laura Dudnick

Laura Dudnick, a Bay Area native, covers education and planning for The San Francisco Examiner. She previously worked as a senior local editor for Patch.com, and as the San Mateo County bureau reporter and weekend editor for Bay City News Service.
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