Board president wants to replace suspensions with more productive punishment
By André Coleman 01/23/2014
It’s bad enough that disproportionate numbers of African-American students in Pasadena schools are being punished with suspensions, according to figures provided by the state Department of Education.
What’s worse is the time wasted by those children and all the other students who miss class after being sent home from school for misbehaving.
“Usually when we send students home they are watching TV and playing video games and that is not a punishment,” said Pasadena Board of Education President Renatta Cooper. “I think, ultimately, each school should assess the problems at its site and come up with solutions.”
Cooper’s remarks came shortly after US Attorney General Eric Holder and US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called for equality in meting out school discipline. In a 23-page letter, Holder said the federal government will actively enforce federal laws against racial bias in school discipline practices. In 2011, the DOJ took action against the Los Angeles Unified School District, forcing the district to track and report discipline data and eliminate “inequitable and disproportionate” practices.
In Pasadena, schools are patrolled by police officers. In a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Pasadena Unified School District and the Police Department, “officers will not respond to calls of discipline problems. School administration will be responsible for handing these issues,” according to the document.
According to figures kept on the state Department of Education’s Web site, black students in the PUSD were more likely to be suspended than white or Latino students. In 2011-2012 — the last year that the DOE collected data — 1,776 students, or 8.3 percent of the district’s 19,805 enrolled students, were suspended.
Although African-American students made up 16.4 percent of the student body, they accounted for 33.2 percent of suspensions, while white students made up 14.9 percent of the district population but just 6.6 percent of suspensions. Latino students, made up about 59.3 percent of the student body in 2011-12, yet accounted for 55.9 percent of suspensions.
Cooper said she wants to see policy that results in fewer suspensions overall.
“If you look at our African-American suspensions, some of the higher rates are on campuses with
African-American principals,” Cooper said. “It is not racism. It’s a class issue. Still, we have to find a way to keep children in school.”