Nan Austin

August 1, 2013

On Campus: What gets kids kicked out

Modesto City Schools handed out 4,700 suspensions in 2012-13, the largest number for fighting. Black males were suspended at significantly higher rates, raising concerns of community advocates.

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Speakers at the Modesto City Schools Board meeting raised concerns about high numbers of black males getting suspensions, especially in junior high.

A closer look at the numbers Wednesday shows that 26 percent of black males attending Modesto junior high and high schools were suspended over the last school year, about the same as still far-too-high national numbers. 

By comparison, the Modesto district suspended 15 percent of Latino males and 12 percent of white males in the same grades.

Overall, Modesto City Schools has lowered suspensions by more than 40 percent over the past four years.

Suspensions punish relatively minor things, and one student may be suspended several times a year for a few days. Expulsions carry a big punch, usually taking kids out of the school for the rest of the year. A skirmish generally means suspensions; if the SWAT van arrives or crime scene tape goes up, think expulsions.

Before hitting the serious numbers, a few miscellaneous tidbits: Eight kids last year were caught cheating. One was suspended for forging a note and another lone suspension was for bad behavior on a school bus. At least 34 kids ditched school.

Despite widespread teen complaints about identification lanyards, only one student during the year was suspended — for two days — for not wearing one. Five kids apparently got around district computer network controls, but no word on whether they played unapproved games or worse.

In what seems like the wrong message to send, 14 kids were suspended for missing school. That’s against policy and will be addressed, said Ed Miller, Modesto City Schools’ director of child welfare and attendance, who spent time Wednesday reviewing the suspension report.

Modesto City Schools, with 29,000 students, had 4,700 suspensions last year. Because suspension is the first step in the expulsion process, suspension statistics include it all, Miller said.

Here’s what got kids kicked out:

-- 1,992 kids were involved in a fights, threats of attack or some level sort of horseplay, 68 causing injury.

-- 111 made attacks or threats against school employees, seven reaching the level of assault or battery.

-- 146 counts involved a real or fake weapon, nine with a knife more than 2½ inches long.

-- 122 kids bullied or used slurs, and an additional 12 took part in a hazing.

-- 43 cases were about gang activity, and 15 more were for graffiti.

-- 42 kids got caught with tobacco products.

-- 559 involved the possession, sale or use of drugs — marijuana being a frequent culprit, Miller said.

-- 49 involved the possession, sale or use of alcohol.

So the take-aways: Physical confrontations or threats accounted for about 42 percent of total suspensions. Drugs far outstrip alcohol as the rebellion of choice at school or school events.

There were two incidents of sexual assault or battery, categories Miller said include groping or injury to sensitive areas. “There were no rapes,” he clarified. 

All the above, to one degree or another, strike a clear note of danger. Community members concerned about racial disparity also look at more subjective discipline areas. These three account for more than a quarter of all suspensions:

-- 688 students “defied the valid authority” of staff.

-- 118 were disruptive.

-- 455 were sent home for frequent cussing or vulgarity.

While the student conduct code spells out rules and consequences, every parent knows defiance is a judgment call and the adult’s reaction can make it worse or cool it down.

That’s where schools ask parents to trust in their training and professionalism. But in the case of parents who had bad experiences themselves, that trust may not come easily.

Mack Wilson said his boys and other black youth were unfairly treated years ago in Modesto schools. He cites an example of one son being attacked by three white boys, “but the black kid’s the only one expelled. … Right is right, and wrong is wrong,” he said.

He looks at the statistics and says black families still have reason to worry about unfair treatment of their children. “They live with fear, and they shouldn’t live with fear,” Wilson said.

His twin sons, Jacq and Jacque Wilson<NO1>both names cq<NO>, now practice law in San Francisco but have come back to Modesto to help organize a mentoring program for junior highs. They addressed the school board Monday and plan to bring back a formal proposal Aug. 19.

To get more data on disciplinary actions and the need for mentors, they are asking parents of black children suspended or expelled from Modesto City Schools to call Mack Wilson (209) 529-4329 or Frank Johnson at the NAACP, (209) 544-2810.


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