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Santa Barbara School District Exploring Restorative Justice Model for Student Discipline
After a report on the Santa Barbara Unified School District’s suspension and truancy rates, the school board voted Tuesday to pursue a complete overhaul of student discipline and implement a restorative justice model.
In the coming months, the board will discuss policy suggestions, plans for a stakeholder committee and choosing one junior high school for a 2012-13 pilot program that operates with the new model.
Denver Public Schools is used as the template, but districts in Oakland and San Francisco also have implemented restorative justice models, according to Superintendent Dave Cash.
The restorative justice model used by Denver features a “ladder of intervention” that includes constant communication with the student. Discipline can be administrative, such as detention or suspensions; restorative, such as a problem-solving activity done with the offender; or therapeutic, such as counseling or anger management classes. The interventions consider the student’s age, severity of infraction, prior conduct, attitude and willingness to repair the harm.
Cash said it’s about getting to the root of the problem instead of responding to a student’s behavior.
After a presentation on the district’s student discipline numbers, the “elephant in the room,” board president Susan Deacon said, is the question of why so many more Latino students are being expelled and suspended. There was no answer forthcoming, and many districts around the country struggle with the same issues.
Cash said the disparity between Latino and white students in expulsions, suspensions, truancy and academic achievement has long been troubling to the district and is partly caused by “looser” disciplinary measures that can be subjective and the lack of reporting standards among schools.
High suspension rates, changing a school’s climate and improving an achievement gap are all reasons other districts pursue restorative justice models, and are “all in our rationale as to why we’re looking at it,” Cash said.
He said he believes the whole district needs a culture change, with better interaction between adults and students and getting students more engaged.
Board member Annette Cordero said the Santa Barbara district’s data are no surprise, but the district has to decide what it’s willing and able to do about it. She said there’s a school climate that makes Latino students feel disconnected and less likely to engage.
Cash said there are just five offenses that carry a mandatory expulsion, while the rest are more subjective for disciplinary action, which contributes to the problem.
Robin Sawaske, associate superintendent of education, said that although there is a clear disparity between Latino and white students, social-economic status doesn’t seem to play a part.
“Living in poverty does not affect this at all, as far as what our data shows,” Sawaske said.
There is a 2-to-1 ratio of Latino to white male students who get expulsions, suspensions and truancies when numbers are corrected for population size, Sawaske said. There were 3,873 suspensions and 43 expulsions in the 2010-11 year.
Male students are most commonly expelled for matters related to controlled substances, weapons/dangerous and personal injury/violence. Suspensions are usually because of disruptive behavior, physical injury/violence or controlled substances. Few female students are expelled, but 63 percent of the cases are related to controlled substances.
Among female students, there is a 6-to-1 ratio between Latinos and whites who are suspended, according to the district’s analysis of discipline data. Females are suspended most often for controlled substances, disruptive/defiance and physical injury/violence.
The number of truancies is steadily increasing each year, but some huge jumps may be caused by inconsistent reporting among schools as to what constitutes truancy.
Santa Barbara High School Principal John Becchio cited truancy as one of the most important issues the campus faces and, with clear expectations and more detailed reporting rules, has already cut numbers down from the previous year.
The policy of open campus at lunchtime was misconstrued as an excuse to leave campus throughout the entire day, so Becchio worked to recapture the intent of the open campus rule. Becchio said Santa Barbara High, which has the highest truancy rate among the high schools, had a lot of “human error” in tracking truancies as well, which has been managed with a restructured system.
The total number of truancy days jumped from 15,839 in 2008-09 to 22,341 last year, with most appearing among high school students.
A Santa Barbara County Civil Grand Jury determined that truancy rates have increased since the county’s program lapsed in 2008 because of funding and recommended that the District Attorney’s Office, the County Education Office and school districts work together to fund and operate the program again, which held truancy rates to about 20 percent from 1997 to 2008. So far, no such model has materialized.
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