Major drop in number of Tahoe-Truckee students suspended last year
By the numbers
66: Students suspended in 2013-14
168: Students suspended in 2012-13
215: Students suspended in 2011-12
Source: California Department of Education Data Reporting Office. Numbers reflect students suspended, and not number of suspensions, as some students are suspended more than once.
TRUCKEE, Calif. — In response to punishment alternatives, the number of Tahoe Truckee Unified School District students suspended dropped substantially last year.
For 2013-14, TTUSD suspended 66 students, down from 168 in 2012-13 and 215 in 2011-12, according to the California Department of Education.
A major factor in the decrease was the 2012 approval of Assembly Bill 1729, which provides school district leaders more discretion in using other means of correction besides suspension or expulsion, said Corine Harvey, TTUSD executive director of student services.
“Prior to that, ed code was pretty much a kid commits an offense, the consequence was suspension,” she said.
Alternatives available to TTUSD include a letter of apology, social probation/loss of certain privileges, detention, counseling, and parent classroom supervision, among others.
They can be used for offenses such as damage to school or private property; possession or use of tobacco or nicotine products; engaging in an act of bullying; and willful defiance and/or disruption of school activities.
“The whole point is to not deny kids access to instruction,” Harvey said. “Kids can’t learn if they are not here, so it doesn’t make sense if we’re making every effort to get kids here, but then if they are naughty, we make them leave for extended periods of time.”
When a student misses school, it equates to hours of instruction and classroom interaction with students and teachers lost.
Further, when students are chronically absent — missing 18 or more school days — it can slow instruction for others since material needs repeating.
“We are keeping more students in school and learning than we have in the past by providing alternatives to suspensions through a program that supports positive behavior intervention versus immediate punitive actions with the removal of students from the school environment,” said TTUSD Superintendent Rob Leri. “The provisions for mandatory suspension and expulsions are still in place for the (major) offensives and two or more violations in other areas.”
Possession, selling or furnishing a firearm; brandishing a knife; unlawfully selling a controlled substance; committing or attempting to commit sexual assault or battery; and possession of an explosive are grounds for a five-day home suspension, law enforcement notification, and mandatory recommendation for expulsion.
The TTUSD Board of Education expelled one student each in 2013-14 and 2011-12, and two in 2012-13, according to the state.
Meanwhile, the following offenses are grounds for a three- to five-day suspension, law enforcement notification and a request for expulsion — unless the principal finds expulsion is inappropriate due to circumstances: Causing serious physical injury to another person, except in self-defense; possession of any knife or other dangerous object of no reasonable use; unlawful possession of any controlled substance (except for first offense of possession of no more than 1 ounce of marijuana); robbery or extortion; and assault or battery on a school employee.
“The underlining message in determining what’s appropriate is safety of the campus, overall student safety, and then what’s the best educational option for the student,” Harvey said.
Suspended students get an education piece upon school reentry, Harvey said.
In addition, TTUSD is providing regular character education and social skills training for students in kindergarten through eighth grade in an effort to reduce student offenses.
“Instead of just dealing with this problem, we’re being proactive in doing extra education to hopefully eliminate it,” said Kelli Twomey, coordinator of parent and community relations for TTUSD.
Other school districts are experiencing similar reductions in suspensions and expulsions.
In California, 49,987 fewer students (15.2 percent) were suspended in 2013-14 compared to the previous school year, according to the Department of Education.
Similarly, 1,655 fewer students (20 percent) were expelled in 2013-14 compared to the previous year.
“These numbers show that the work of the department, districts, teachers, parents and students … is paying off by keeping more students in school and learning,” Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of public instruction, said in a statement. “You can have the best facilities, the best teachers, and the best curriculum in the world, but none of that matters if students are not in school.”
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