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SFUSD board to take up proposal to leave suspensions as last resort

Suspension as a common disciplinary measure for students is an old school of thought as far as the San Francisco Unified School District is concerned.

A resolution to be introduced at the school board meeting Tuesday seeks to erase the notion that suspending misbehaving students is the only disciplinary option teachers and principals have, while supplying them with alternatives.

“Our strong preference is that suspensions are only used in the most extreme situations, as a last resort,” said board member Matt Haney, who authored the resolution.

Instead, each school in the district should have a tiered behavioral discipline matrix that involves positive intervention, as well as restorative and trauma-informed practices, the resolution proposes. Suspensions, automatic in some cases by state law, would still be allowed when necessary.

The push for reform stems in large part from troubling statistics.

In 2012-13, black students made up only about 10 percent of the student body but accounted for more than 50 percent of suspensions and expulsions, according to district data. Black high school students missed an average of 19 more instructional days annually than their peers, data show.

“Our racial-disproportionate suspension is particularly bad,” Haney said. “I do not know if there are any other urban California districts that suspend African-Americans at the rate that we do.”

Though not as disproportionate, the numbers for Latino students — about 23 percent of the student population and suspensions — are just as troubling, he added.

The district began addressing the issue in 2009 by creating a restorative practices department. While disproportions remain, suspension numbers have dropped 30 percent in the past few years.

“It wasn’t only because there was a culture shift and changing of hearts and minds around this,” Haney said. “It was also because we put in place alternatives.”

The resolution, which would initiate a three-year plan for restorative practices, needs a majority vote from board members in February.

Kevine Boggess, director of civic engagement for Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth, said: “We are confident that the Board of Education will be responsive and really listen to what the community wants, and that’s to see the change in the culture of schools and discipline.”

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