Board of Education president calls out thousands of “invisible suspensions”

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SF Examiner photo by Mike Koozmin

K-12 student advocates have suspensions in their crosshairs.

At last night’s (Tue/4) Board of Education meeting, young students rallied against suspensions they see as unfair. Advocates negotiated rule changes. San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education commissioners shook their fists at injustice. 

“Willful defiance” suspensions are cited nationwide as a problematic category of suspension because of their subjective nature. Wearing a backwards cap, having a bad day, talking back, all of those fall under the umbrella of willful defiance.

The suspension ban is monumental, SFUSD Superintendent Richard Carranza told the board.

“We’re talking about culture change. A culture where it’s not okay for an adult to say ‘get out,’” Carranza said.

The point of the Board of Ed’s meeting last night was to discuss banning suspensions for willfully defiant behavior, and to refocus SFUSD resources on improving student-teacher relationships instead. 

But new data shows that a different form of punishment, which was previously unrecorded, may cause almost as much harm as suspensions. 

Ever been sent to the principal’s office? That’s a form of referral, and in California it’s enshrined in state education code. Students can be sent to a counselor, principal, or even another classroom. But President Sandra Lee Fewer said the numbers of referrals are getting out of hand, and must be addressed. 

Fewer made an amendment to the controversial resolution to ban suspensions at last night’s meeting, calling for it to also require a reduction of in-school referrals.

The punishment, she said, deprives students of needed classroom time -- and is ineffective.

“We can’t pass a resolution like this without including referrals,” Fewer said. “These are in the thousands. Some schools have three times the amount of black children with referrals.”

She called them "invisible suspensions," because this school year is the first time they've been thoroughly tracked, thanks to a new system called the Counselor Online Referral Form. 

The new data shows thousands of middle school students (high school data is still being collected), mostly black and Latino, were sent out of the classroom for “non-compliance” referrals since the last school semester alone. “Non-compliance” referrals are nebulous, advocates allege, a subjective catch-all category for bad behavior. 

referraldata

SFUSD referral data. This is incomplete data collected from the first semester and portion of the second semester of all SFUSD middle schools, but only a few high schools. Completed multi-year data of SFUSD high school suspensions show similar disparities in enforcement of punishments, however.

The board will vote on the proposed amendment and willful defiance resolution at their Feb. 25 meeting.

Fewer’s amendment would not go so far as to eliminate referrals entirely. That would be legally problematic, United Educators of San Francisco President Dennis Kelly said. 

“The teachers have a right under law to send a child to the office if there is a disruption in the classroom,” he said in a phone interview.

“There is a concern that an awful lot is being dumped on teachers and counselors,” Kelly added. “More and more people are having very good ideas and saying ‘you do it now.’” 

Reforms need to be backed by resources that help a teacher enact needed changes, he said. “Without those supplements, this is only so much talk.”

But in the meantime, students are suffering. Many students took to the podium at last night’s meeting, decrying policies they said were detrimental to their education.

Alexandria Berliner, now 22, said suspensions and referrals as a high schooler derailed her education. “I’ve been suspended so many times, I ended up dropping out of high school.”

Laura Faer is an attorney and director of the statewide education rights at the nonprofit Public Counsel. Faer told the Bay Guardian that though referrals could be problematic, it was less clear cut of an issue than suspensions.

“The question is: what is happening to the child who is referred?” she said. “If a referral goes to counseling and it’s productive, that could be a good thing.”

But the non-compliance category of referrals was a red flag for Faer. 

“Noncompliance is not specific, and I would say that’s a huge problem” she said. “It’s entirely subjective, from what we’re looking at right now. It could lead to a child losing instructional time.”

That was commissioner Fewer’s concern as well. At the meeting, she said she’s talked to kids as young as third-grade level who felt school administrators and teachers did not want them there in the schools. She blames policies that send kids out of the classroom. 

“We have a school-to-prison pipeline here, (while) we pat ourselves for our good work,” she said at the end of the meeting. 

“The impact these suspensions have is social isolation. We break spirit, and we are very good at breaking spirit.” 

Comments

I see no problem and I am comfortable with this.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 05, 2014 @ 6:26 pm

Teaching is no longer a professional job and the students know it and if they wish, they can curb any instruction time. The days of a teacher having any authority are long gone and our society is paying a high price because of the teacher's loss of any authority. Thugs now reign supreme in many SFUSD schools. Even the better schools in the district will create undisciplined students who with poor and billigerant attitudes will cause problems when the best of SFUSD's students enter college. I hear from my colleagues that an 8th grade diploma is now the associate degree. Teaching is no longer the wonderful give-and-take with teachable moments in college. Behavioral history is now a key measure if a potential college candidate makes the "possible" pile of applications. Lack of social acceptable behavior is now a key measure of a potential applicant to our nation's best colleges and universities.

Posted by Guest Brian Smith on Feb. 06, 2014 @ 5:52 am

the people supporting this have no clue what goes on in a classroom, or how many other students are adversely affected by chronically disruptive students.

Posted by Richmondman on Feb. 06, 2014 @ 6:20 am

Colored Students of Color should never be punished or disciplined for even the most severe infractions, because racism and white privilege.

Posted by Chromefields on Feb. 06, 2014 @ 7:25 am

Bring back corporal punishment

Posted by Claptrap on Feb. 06, 2014 @ 8:36 am

"Alexandria Berliner, now 22, said suspensions and referrals as a high schooler derailed her education. “I’ve been suspended so many times, I ended up dropping out of high school.”"

My behavior got me suspended so many times that I quit school, its everyone else's fault but mine.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2014 @ 9:29 am

I never said that it was everyone else's fault. I never did anything wrong that I should have been suspended for but standing up for myself. I was suspended for coming out about being gay. I was jumped by a group of kids in the grade below me. I was suspended for a week while those who attacked me were left to harass more people at school and we're never punished. I got suspended for standing up and telling staff and faculty about the faults I was seeing. No one in my school ever thought to think that maybe they need to find out what is going on at the root. Instead I was pushed out because no one wanted to deal with my concern about how the way our classes and staff were set up to screw us over. I had only one staff member who showed enough empathy to transfer me to s school where maybe my learning style would be acknowledged and my thoughts and ideas would be validated. The thing is that our youth are not being cared for emotionally and if the youth aren't feeling safe they aren't going to learn and kicking them out of the classroom isn't going to fix that. We need to focus on our youths root issues and heal them together in the class room. To learn to teach through healing.

I never blamed anyone for my behavior but who said my behaviors were bad. I was a wounded child that needed love and all I got was kicked out and hurt. One person tried to help me but it wasn't enough. Of course I dropped out and found the help myself but it should have been there available for me already at school. No Child should have to drop out of school to figure it out alone. We need to establish family and community values back into our communities and schools. No Child or youth or young adult should have to go through what I did. Suspension never helped me it only stunted me. But because I didn't give up on myself like my schools did I am where I am. I stand for solutions not suspensions and I stand for stopping the school to prison pipeline.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 10, 2014 @ 11:27 pm

I was suspended so many times that my credits were being taken from I was not allowed to regain those credits because I was not allowed to do my work while suspended causing me to fall behind. My behavior was fine I'm a great fucking student but no one seemed to have an empathy for my home and outside situations. If I was cared for appropriately by staff I could a graduated on time but they discouraged me from seeing any hope for youth like myself I quit my school but I didn't quit my education. Our school system is fucked and when I was in public school I was treated unfairly so I walked the fuck away from what was no longer serving me. I got my Ged and got on with my life. I wasn't going to fight to get through a system that wasn't going to let me through to anything but prison.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 10, 2014 @ 11:34 pm

over the years to be SFBG darlings fix this long ago?

Posted by guest on Feb. 06, 2014 @ 5:30 pm

as a child? She knows what's best for you though.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2014 @ 6:07 pm

Yes, Jane attended elite New York City private schools and Stanford U.

The suspension rates were along politically correct socioeconomic/racial equality lines at those schools.

If a student ever got suspended, the family's chauffeur was notified immediately, and the student was driven home.

That's the way to solve this so-called "suspension" problem.

Posted by Sparky on Feb. 07, 2014 @ 11:38 am

you cannot say anything mean about her.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 07, 2014 @ 11:55 am

colored people of color.

Posted by guest on Feb. 08, 2014 @ 1:32 pm

whites. It's their own fault too. They don't know how to play the victim card.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 08, 2014 @ 1:53 pm

Asians seem to raise children with a non victim mentality.

If they get in trouble at school they don't blame the school.

This whole numbers game by the author is interesting in that the author is a statistical illiterate.

Posted by guest on Feb. 08, 2014 @ 2:35 pm

My concern about the graph is that "Chinese?" (hullo? the correct term is "Chinese-American") students are not being suspended enough.

Chinese-Americans account for more than 35% of SFUSD students but only 2% of suspensions.

The African-American numbers need to drop and the "Chinese" numbers need to rise if we are going to have equal restorative-justice and socioeconomic justice/equality in our society.

Posted by Sparky on Feb. 07, 2014 @ 11:33 am
Posted by Guest on Feb. 07, 2014 @ 11:48 am

Yes, that should be the case if we are a peoples who truly want corrective socio-ecological inputs and the correct synergistic equality outputs, thus equating with harmonistic social justice.

Posted by Sparky on Feb. 07, 2014 @ 1:04 pm

behaving well and working hard?

How?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 07, 2014 @ 3:22 pm

You obviously do not understand the tenants of contemporary sociological thinking.

Posted by Sparky on Feb. 08, 2014 @ 12:58 pm

this issue. The phallogocentricism of our culturalised school modalities makes it intellectualized in a lack of Derrideanism.

Posted by guest on Feb. 08, 2014 @ 1:31 pm

This particular guest understands

Posted by Sparky on Feb. 09, 2014 @ 12:02 pm
Posted by Guest on Feb. 09, 2014 @ 12:10 pm

I think he and I are are in tandem, fully in tandem.

Posted by Sparky on Feb. 09, 2014 @ 12:25 pm
Posted by Guest on Feb. 09, 2014 @ 12:53 pm

That's a big LOL! good boody.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 18, 2014 @ 9:38 am

Or as Sparky would say "fo pa".

Posted by Guest on Feb. 18, 2014 @ 10:48 am

The parody here is on the educrats who blabber out non sense and use students as lab rats.

Posted by guest on Feb. 09, 2014 @ 12:46 pm

uses such pretentious syntax.

Oh, and it's "tenets" not "tenants". If you're going to try and sound intellectual, at least get your words right.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 08, 2014 @ 1:37 pm

I'm really hoping that Sparky's comments were a satire of progressive thinking. If not, then he is one misguided, pretentious A-hole.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 08, 2014 @ 2:18 pm

phrasing to try and disguise the abject peurility of his ideas, thereby hoping that we will see in a floundering, shallow dunce the illusion of someone almost cognitively adequate.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 08, 2014 @ 2:37 pm

I am another Guest that hopes that.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 10, 2014 @ 5:16 pm

As noted above, you clearly are unaware of the contemporary, state-of-the-art sociological thinking regarding input/output synergistic response as pertaining to restorative justice in an urban environment.

No suspension = progress.

Get it now?

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Posted by ElliotPeno on Feb. 11, 2014 @ 2:46 am

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Posted by ElliotPeno on Feb. 11, 2014 @ 2:46 am

Do not get rid of Suspensions and don’t put this issue on teachers! Get of rid policy that suspends students for being tardy or having late class/homework. We need suspensions for students, when counseling and building positive relationships with defiant students doesn't work because the student(s) are not willing to make better choices or changes. Also, get rid of those teachers who have a high rate of suspending African American and Latino students over white/other students, because it is obvious that they by have some hidden bias. The data does not show that suspensions work or don't work, it shows that SFSUD has some racist teachers, who may not realize that they are racist.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 02, 2014 @ 9:56 am

It is not "obvious that they have some hidden bias" toward Black and Latino students. Have you ever thought that black and Latino students are suspended at a higher rate than other students because, oh I don't know, they cause trouble at higher rates?

Black males cause a disproportionate amount of the violent crime in this city and this country (over 50% despite being around 6% of the population). Around 8,000 Black males are murdered EVERY YEAR (more than the total number of U.S. military deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan COMBINED). You know who is the perpetrator over 90% of the time? Other Black males. Does that mean it's obvious that they have "a hidden bias" towards other Black males?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 02, 2014 @ 12:26 pm

ignoring the most obvious reason why that happens - blacks commit more crimes.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 02, 2014 @ 1:27 pm

Do not get rid of Suspensions and don’t put this issue on teachers! Get of rid policy that suspends students for being tardy or having late class/homework. We need suspensions for students, when counseling and building positive relationships with defiant students doesn't work because the student(s) are not willing to make better choices or changes. Also, get rid of those teachers who have a high rate of suspending African American and Latino students over white/other students, because it is obvious that they by have some hidden bias. The data on SFUSD suspensions does not show whether or not suspensions work, but that SFSUD has racist teachers who may not realize their biases.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 02, 2014 @ 9:59 am

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