San Diego Unified’s Discipline Plan Exists – On a Shelf

San Diego Unified’s Discipline Plan Exists – On a Shelf

Photo by Sam Hodgson

A September meeting of the San Diego Unified Board of Education.

The San Diego Unified School District disciplines black and Latino students more often and more harshly than other students, and “has been diligently working on addressing disproportionate suspensions rates” for years, said R. Vernon Moore, the district’s executive director of student services.

Moore emailed me in response to this story highlighting racial disparities reflected in the district’s discipline rates. In the story, I detailed that a large number of students aren’t being sent home for posing serious threats to safety — like packing guns or selling dope — but for relatively minor infractions like refusing to do homework or for acting disrespectfully toward staff.

Behavior that falls into this gray area can be categorized as “willful defiance,” a catchall term that school districts like Los Angeles Unified have banned for its disproportionate impact on Latino and black students.

Moore pointed to a draft of San Diego Unified’s Uniform Discipline Plan, which was adopted by the district’s board of trustees in September 2012. The document “illustrates the district’s intent to mitigate suspensions for acts of defiance or disruption,” Moore wrote in an email.

Though the willful defiance policy is still in effect, and there’s so far no indication it will be changed – Moore is right that the Uniform Discipline Plan is instructive in how the district hopes to deal with these issues moving forward. The report, which runs 26 pages long, reads in part:

Reducing the racial disparities in school discipline is an important goal of this plan. As is noted in the available district data, school discipline policies affect all students, however, past practices have disproportionately impacted students of color.

African American, Latino/Hispanic, and Native American students, in particular, are more likely to be suspended, expelled, and arrested than their White peers, even for the same behavior. African American, Latino, and Native American students also tend to receive harsher punishments than their peers for the same offenses.

The report continues:

The systemic racial inequalities that persist in school discipline practices must be acknowledged and the district must therefore eliminate institutional structures which contribute to any form of discrimination or bias that present barriers to success for students. 

Toward this end, here are a few ways the plan would aim to create a more equitable learning environment:

• Recommending reasonable consequences and making every reasonable effort to correct student misbehavior in school or on school grounds

• Ensuring due process, and explaining rights to parents and students

• Allocating a portion of teachers professional development to issues regarding student behavior and discipline

• Instituting greater protections for students with disabilities and ensuring that their Individualized Education Plans are followed

• Fostering meaningful parent, student, and community involvement

• Further limiting the option of out-of-school suspension for students who are homeless or have no safe place to go during the school day

The plan, which Moore said was modeled largely after recommendations made by UCLA’s Civil Rights Project, also contains tiered response-recommendations for certain types of behavior.

In short, the plan is comprehensive. The problem: It remains a guiding document, as it has been since it was first adopted over a year ago.

Moore called it a “living document,” subject to change, and said that it hasn’t been fully rolled out in a formal manner. And the date for when it will be next discussed is uncertain.

“If you’re asking me if I have a definitive timeline, I don’t,” he said.

So what holds it back? For one, getting everybody to agree on whether the policies go too far, or not far enough.

For example, while Moore said that using willful defiance as a category to suspend students is open-ended, it is included in the California Education Code. A statewide ban eliminating its use might require action from the governor.

And opting for in-school suspensions, in lieu of those that send students home, requires a shift in resources and complicates staffing concerns.

Finally, Moore said, simply eliminating willful defiance as a category for suspensions doesn’t necessarily address the underlying issues.

“My personal feeling on it is that if you’re the San Diego Police Department and you’re told not to arrest people for shoplifting, the number of shoplifting arrests will go down, but will the shoplifting decrease?” Moore said.

Instead of focusing on willful defiance, the more important conversation would be looking at alternative interventions — if they’re practical, viable and effective, he said.

“I think some districts are (eliminating willful defiance) too quickly. And we want to avoid rushing into it out of political pressure, or just because other districts are doing it,” he said.

The Uniform Discipline Plan was formalized insomuch as it was adopted at a board meeting, but the recommendations are not implemented across schools. For example, discussions about resource shifting for in-school suspensions hasn’t happened, at least not uniformly across the district, per the plan.

Moore said that after the start of the New Year, he will ask district leaders to start offering their recommendations for the next steps of the Uniform Discipline Plan. After that, he said he plans to hold community forums, and meet with school leaders.

So far those meetings haven’t been scheduled.

Voice of San Diego is a nonprofit that depends on you, our readers. Please donate to keep the service strong. Click here to find out more about our supporters and how we operate independently.


Mario Koran

Mario Koran

Mario reports on hospitals, nonprofits and educational institutions, digging into their impact on the greater San Diego community. Reach him directly at 619.325.0531, or by email: mario@vosd.org.

  • 33 Posts
  • 21
    Followers

Show comments
Before you comment, read these simple guidelines on what is not allowed.

11 comments
Miyo
Miyo

Let us look at the suspension rate disparity from a different angle. Perhaps the suspension rates for some groups are artificially low, because there is a bias NOT to suspend certain students. Some students have parents with the time, resources and connections to run interference for them. Would you be hesitant to suspend a student if you thought the parents, the PTA moms, school foundation donors, ASB Advisor, sports coaches, and media, would all be knocking on your school door? You would probably make sure the discipline was justified before suspending a student with powerful parents.

An example of the pressure that can be placed on a school was seen when the 33 students were suspended from Scripps High for producing the "twerking video." The families were able to turn this into a news story that went national. The local ACLU gave their opinion and school board members were giving sound bites to the press.

Do you think Daniel Noriega, the student featured in Mario Koran's first article on suspensions was able to gather support for even one of his suspensions? Did the ACLU or a school board member go to bat for him? Or has the ACLU or school board commented about the racial disparity in the suspension rates? Bias runs both ways.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann

Willful defiance will eventually result in a low grade when the student doesn't complete assignments. Therefore, it isn't cause for suspension, but perhaps to move the student to a different class or a different school.

In Japan, students with the lowest test scores sit in the front of class where they are called upon more to answer questions, and their seat assignments are adjusted throughout the year. Besides keeping them awake and forcing them to pay attention, the peer pressure and discomfort of sitting up front and answering so many questions create a powerful incentive for students to work harder and be less disruptive in class.

And then paying teachers according to how much their students improve throughout the year (value-added) would encourage teachers who are good at working with disruptive students to seek out those students, because they have more potential to improve than someone who's already at the top of his/her class. Some people think the possibility of low pay from poor performance would discourage teaching as a profession, but due to the fact that illusory superiority means perhaps 80% of teachers think they are above average, the possibility of high pay would attract many more teacher candidates than the possibility of low pay would repel.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann subscribermember

Willful defiance will eventually result in a low grade when the student doesn't complete assignments. Therefore, it isn't cause for suspension, but perhaps to move the student to a different class or a different school.

In Japan, students with the lowest test scores sit in the front of class where they are called upon more to answer questions, and their seat assignments are adjusted throughout the year. Besides keeping them awake and forcing them to pay attention, the peer pressure and discomfort of sitting up front and answering so many questions create a powerful incentive for students to work harder and be less disruptive in class.

And then paying teachers according to how much their students improve throughout the year (value-added) would encourage teachers who are good at working with disruptive students to seek out those students, because they have more potential to improve than someone who's already at the top of his/her class. Some people think the possibility of low pay from poor performance would discourage teaching as a profession, but due to the fact that illusory superiority means perhaps 80% of teachers think they are above average, the possibility of high pay would attract many more teacher candidates than the possibility of low pay would repel.

Dan Butler
Dan Butler

I left a great message. on this subject. I guess you didn't like it? interesting how there's only one comment posted...

Dan Butler
Dan Butler subscriber

I left a great message. on this subject. I guess you didn't like it? interesting how there's only one comment posted...

JLDodd
JLDodd

Mario, perhaps you could hang out at one of the high schools with significant minority enrollment and thereby discover the reality as well as the theory at board meetings…

jim dodd

Dan Butler
Dan Butler

All these statistics are well and fine. All I know is i was a school bus driver for 20 yrs and did not care what color or race a kid was if he or she was out of control and i had to tell them to sit there ass down and shut up in order to maintain the safety and integrity of the bus, I'm sure many could find all kinds of politically correct problems with my comments. However after 20 yrs I got tens of thousands of kids to school and back home again safely..Kids need direction and they need love. Explaining to kids what is expected of them should not have to be made a minefield of political correctness to get the job done..And I might add never did a kid get bullied on my bus for one minute. My kids new I was strict but they also new they were cared for safe and protected..

Dan Butler
Dan Butler subscriber

All these statistics are well and fine. All I know is i was a school bus driver for 20 yrs and did not care what color or race a kid was if he or she was out of control and i had to tell them to sit there ass down and shut up in order to maintain the safety and integrity of the bus, I'm sure many could find all kinds of politically correct problems with my comments. However after 20 yrs I got tens of thousands of kids to school and back home again safely..Kids need direction and they need love. Explaining to kids what is expected of them should not have to be made a minefield of political correctness to get the job done..And I might add never did a kid get bullied on my bus for one minute. My kids new I was strict but they also new they were cared for safe and protected..

KIm Carpender
KIm Carpender

In order to avoid suspensions for "willful defiance" we need to provide a long term in-school suspension program run by a counselor and a very tough security person at many sites. While I agree that sending students home is not the best answer, leaving them in class to prevent a teacher from teaching and other students from learning is not a good answer either. For those unsure what "willful defiance" looks like consider the following an example from last week. A student ran into class, hit several others with a book while yelling loudly. The others were seated and trying to start class. Teacher tried to redirect and student yelled "fuck you" repeatedly. When security came to pick up the student they called the teacher a bitch."Willful defiance" is an issue that detracts from the learning of others and we need a serious plan to deal with it. Mr. Moore is right, eliminating the category will not eliminate the behavior. A combination of counseling and discipline might but that takes money.

KIm Carpender
KIm Carpender subscriber

In order to avoid suspensions for "willful defiance" we need to provide a long term in-school suspension program run by a counselor and a very tough security person at many sites. While I agree that sending students home is not the best answer, leaving them in class to prevent a teacher from teaching and other students from learning is not a good answer either. For those unsure what "willful defiance" looks like consider the following an example from last week. A student ran into class, hit several others with a book while yelling loudly. The others were seated and trying to start class. Teacher tried to redirect and student yelled "fuck you" repeatedly. When security came to pick up the student they called the teacher a bitch."Willful defiance" is an issue that detracts from the learning of others and we need a serious plan to deal with it. Mr. Moore is right, eliminating the category will not eliminate the behavior. A combination of counseling and discipline might but that takes money.

Catherine Green
Catherine Green

Hi Dan, I just checked on the back end and it looks like your comment got caught up in our decidedly Puritanical filter for bad words. I can email you the text if you want to edit it just a bit and repost.