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School Boards Join Movement Against Out-of-School Suspensions

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The National School Boards Association has labeled the use of out-of-school suspensions a "crisis" in a new report.

The NSBA's new policy guide, developed jointly with the National Opportunity to Learn Campaign, for school board members urges change, citing statistics that show 3.3 million students were suspended out of school during the 2009-10 school year, including one in six black students.

"School board members should lead the charge to reduce, if not eliminate, the practice of out-of-school suspensions and instead push comprehensive strategies for preventing the removal of students from school for disciplinary reasons," reads the introduction to "Addressing the Out-of-School Suspension Crisis: A Policy Guide for School Board Members."

The guide provides specific steps board members can take and questions they should ask, such as whether and how their districts collect data about school discipline and whether research-based approaches are being used in schools to address and prevent discipline issues.

On Tuesday, Los Angeles Unified school board President Mónica García seemed to be taking a page out of the policy guide—although her actions were planned before its release.

Garcia offered a new policy for her colleagues to consider: banning the suspension of students when the reason is "willful defiance." California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill last year that would have made this a statewide ban. The proposal is expected to be voted on next month. (The proposal got a ringing endorsement from The Los Angeles Times.)

Los Angeles community leaders and elected officials, including Garcia, gathered last week to urge the school board to pass a "school climate bill of rights"—a resolution that would require the use of alternatives to out-of-school suspension and expulsion. And Fresno, Calif., school leaders said last week they would devote more resources to the use of restorative justice to handle student misbehavior.

Although Gov. Brown vetoed the willful-defiance bill last year, California did adopt other measures to change the way students are disciplined. But advocates and lawmakers haven't given up on more shifts.

Last week, the president of the California Endowment told members of the state assembly to continue the overhaul of the state's discipline policies during a hearing. (The California Endowment supports Education Week's coverage of school climate and discipline.)

"Prior research has shown us that schools that suspend large numbers of students are not safer and don't have higher test scores. And new research from Johns Hopkins University shows that even one suspension in the 9th grade doubles the risk of dropout. The decision to suspend a student is no small thing—it's a high-stakes moment in the life of a young person that can play a major role in their future success and well-being," Dr. Roger K. Reed told the assembly. "There is a better way."

Follow Rules for Engagement on Twitter @Rulz4Engagement and Education Week Staff Writer Nirvi Shah on Twitter @NirviShah.

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