Suspensions

When students exhibit behavioral problems and do not respond to other forms of discipline, schools can resort to exclusionary discipline—namely suspensions, where students are temporarily excluded from the classroom, and expulsions, where students are required to leave a school altogether.
In California, students can be suspended or expelled only for certain behaviors, following the regulations set by California Education Code 48900-48927.[1] For some categories of behavior, punishment is subject to administrator discretion based on the student’s past behavior, the feasibility of other options for punishment, and administrators’ predictions of future behavior (i.e., whether the administrator perceives that the student “causes a continuing danger” to themselves or others).[2] This kind of discretion allows for administrators to select alternate, less harmful types of punishment, consider extenuating circumstances, and otherwise try to help students who are subject to school discipline. However, if that discretion is applied differently across students, it also opens the door for discrimination and disparate impact.
Although exclusionary discipline works to quickly limit the impact of a misbehaving student on their classmates, it can inadvertently be harmful to the student. Suspension and expulsion remove the student from the learning environment and associated support structures, do not address the cause of the behavior, may aggravate problem behaviors, and are associated with juvenile justice involvement.[3] Studies and local data are consistent that students of color, particularly Black students, students with disabilities, male students, LGBTQ+ youth, foster youth, migrants, homeless youth, English learners, other marginalized groups, and the intersections of those populations are disproportionately subject to exclusionary discipline.[4],[5],[6],[7],[8]
The California Department of Education released State Guidance for New Laws on Discipline in August 2021 that aims to reduce negative consequences of exclusionary practices by informing educators of new laws that encourage alternatives to suspension and support school environments that are beneficial for all. Other recent state legislation prohibits suspension for willful defiance or disruption for students in kindergarten through eighth grade[9] and requires schools to provide students with homework upon request when they are suspended for two or more school days.[10]  The 2021 guidance encourages schools to use suspension as a last resort, provide support for correcting behavior in lieu of suspension, reduce or eliminate the use of suspension against students who are absent or late, and implement restorative justice and trauma-informed practices.[11] Some of these practices were already being utilized locally. In 2020, San Diego Unified School District implemented a restorative discipline policy aimed at encouraging pro-social behavior among students, reducing disparate impacts of discipline policies by race, and increasing awareness of ways that behaviors can be influenced by trauma, disability, and cultural differences.[12]
It may be difficult to evaluate the impact of these state and local changes due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in physical school closures starting in February/March 2020 and widespread distance learning in the following academic years.[13] Caution should be exercised when comparing discipline data across recent academic years.
In total, there were 184 students expelled in San Diego County during the 2021-2022 school year. Due to small numbers, expulsion data disaggregated by race and ethnicity are not included in this report but are available through the California Department of Education.[14] There were 13,103 total students suspended in San Diego County out of 502,933 total students during the 2021-2022 school year; suspensions by race and ethnicity are shown in the figure below.[15] In the 2021-2022 school year, African American, Hispanic or Latino, American Indian or Alaska Native, and Pacific Islander students were overrepresented in the percentage of students suspended compared to their total enrollment. African American students made up 4.3% of total enrolled students and 8.8% of suspensions; Hispanic or Latino students made up 49% of total enrolled students and 59.7% of suspensions; American Indian or Alaska Native made up 0.5% of total enrolled students and 1% of suspensions; and Pacific Islander students made up 0.4% of all enrolled students and 0.5% of suspensions.

Data Information
Data Source: California Department of Education, Academic Year 2021-2022.
  • Suspensions are the unduplicated count of students suspended; students who are suspended multiple times are only counted once.
References
  1. Education Code, 48900-48927. (n.d) California Legislative Information. Retrieved April 10, 2023, from https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?lawCode=EDC&sectionNum=48900
  2. Administrator Recommendation of Expulsion Matrix. (n.d.) California Department of Education. Retrieved September 19, 2023, from https://www.cde.ca.gov/ls/ss/se/expulsionrecomm.asp
  3. Gerlinger, J., Viano, S., Gardella, J. H., Fisher, B. W., Chris Curran, F., & Higgins, E. M. (2021). Exclusionary school discipline and delinquent outcomes: A meta-analysis. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 50(8), 1493–1509. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-021-01459-3
  4. Office of Justice Programs. (n.d.). Breaking Schools’ Rules: A Statewide Study of How School Discipline Relates to Students’ Success and Juvenile Justice Involvement. Retrieved October 26, 2022, from https://www.ojp.gov/ncjrs/virtual-library/abstracts/breaking-schools-rules-statewide-study-how-school-discipline
  5. de Brey, C., Musu, L., McFarland, J., Wilkinson-Flicker, S., Diliberti, M., Zhang, A., Branstetter, C., & Wang, X. (2018). Status and trends in the education of racial and ethnic groups 2018. 228.
  6. Snapp, S.D., Day, J. K., & Russell, S.T. (2022) School Pushout: The Role of Supportive Strategies Versus Punitive Practices for LGBT Youth of Color J Res Adolesc.32(4):1470-1483.
  7. Wood, J. L., Harris III, F., Howard, T.C., Qas, M., Essien, I., & King T. (2021) Suspending Our Future: How Inequitable Disciplinary Practices Disenfranchise Black Kids in California’s Public Schools. Black Minds Project, retrieved, https://bmmcoalition.com/suspendingourfuture/
  8. Discipline Data. (n.d) California Department of Education. Retrieved September 20, 2023, from https://www.cde.ca.gov/ds/ad/distop.asp
  9. Bill Text—SB-419 Pupil discipline: Suspensions: Willful defiance. (2019). Retrieved October 26, 2022, from https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201920200SB419
  10. Bill Text—AB-982 Pupils: Homework assignments for suspended pupils. (2019). Retrieved October 26, 2022, from https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201920200AB982
  11. CA Dept of Education. (n.d.). State Guidance for New Laws on Discipline—Letters. Retrieved October 26, 2022, from https://www.cde.ca.gov/nr/el/le/yr21ltr0819.asp
  12. San Diego Unified School District. (2020). Restorative Discipline Policy (BP 5144). Retrieved from https://go.boarddocs.com/ca/sandi/Board.nsf/files/BUPS6B712052/$file/BP%205144%20Restorative%20Discipline%20Policy%20(New%20for%20Adoption).pdf
  13. Discipline Data. (n.d) California Department of Education. Retrieved September 20, 2023, from https://www.cde.ca.gov/ds/ad/distop.asp
  14. 2021-22 Expulsion Rate. San Diego County Report Disaggregated by Ethnicity. Data Quest, California Department of Education. Retrieved August 3, 2023, from https://dq.cde.ca.gov/dataquest/dqCensus/DisExpRate.aspx?year=2021-22&agglevel=County&cds=37    
  15. 2021-22 Suspension Rate. San Diego County Report Disaggregated by Ethnicity. Data Quest, California Department of Education. Retrieved September 20, 2023, from https://dq.cde.ca.gov/dataquest/dqCensus/DisSuspRate.aspx?year=2021-22&agglevel=County&cds=37&ro=y
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Updated February 7, 2024