Campus supervisor Ron Richard oversees students during lunch time at Samuel Jackman Middle School in 2009, when the school had a “zero tolerance” policy for misbehavior. Today, the school suspends far fewer students. Autumn Cruz acruz@sacbee.com
Campus supervisor Ron Richard oversees students during lunch time at Samuel Jackman Middle School in 2009, when the school had a “zero tolerance” policy for misbehavior. Today, the school suspends far fewer students. Autumn Cruz acruz@sacbee.com

Data Tracker

Are ‘zero tolerance’ policies for misbehavior at Sacramento-area schools a thing of the past?

By Phillip Reese

preese@sacbee.com

December 02, 2017 01:34 PM

UPDATED December 02, 2017 01:43 PM

Local public schools suspended and expelled far fewer students last year as they continued to shift away from punishment and toward prevention and positive reinforcement, according to the latest figures from the California Department of Education.

Sacramento County school districts issued about 27,000 suspensions during the 2016-17 school year, down by 18,000, or 40 percent, from the 2011-12 school year. Districts expelled 160 students, down by 108, or 40 percent, from 2011-12.

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A sharp decline in suspensions solely due to “defiance” is behind much of the drop. Administrators today often reserve harsh penalties for the most severe behavioral problems.

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Recent studies have found that “zero tolerance” policies relying heavily on punishment result in poor outcomes for students. In light of those studies, many schools across the state have modified their policies.

One example is Samuel Jackman Middle School in Elk Grove Unified. The school employed a zero-tolerance policy in 2009 that resulted in 1,224 suspensions – even though the school only had 964 students.

The school then instituted a positive behavior intervention program that emphasized prevention and counseling.

Last school year, Samuel Jackman administrators issued 251 suspensions.

Similar stories have played out across the region. Each of the 10 largest districts suspend a lower proportion of students today than five years ago.

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Despite the decline, a key disparity remains: Schools still suspend black students at a much higher rate than other ethnic groups.

State Superintendent Tom Torlakson in a statement called that disparity “disturbing.”

“We have much work to do. We need to do more, and we need to do better,” he said.

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Phillip Reese is The Bee’s data specialist and teaches at Sacramento State. Reach him at 916-321-1137 or 916-278-5420.