Alison Yin/For EdSource
High school students at Oakland Technical High School in Oakland, Calif., Monday, May 1, 2017. Photos by Alison Yin for EdSource

Schools should offer more counseling, suspend fewer students and address the underlying mental health challenges of students who misbehave in class, according to the state’s new school discipline guidelines.

The guidelines, released last month by the California Department of Education, are intended to help schools navigate an anticipated uptick in student misbehavior following more than a year of remote learning, said department spokesperson Scott Roark.

Educators expect more disruption and difficulties from some students due to the pandemic.

“Students in in-person attendance may exhibit disruptive behaviors due to increased anxiety and depression. Students in independent study may not complete assignments due to mental health barriers,” Roark said. “A focus on social-emotional learning is more important in addressing behavioral health.”

The guidelines wrap up reforms of laws and policies related to suspensions, expulsions and other forms of discipline in K-12 schools over the past several years. They were drawn up with input from Public Counsel, a public interest law firm, and CADRE, a nonprofit focused on racial disparities in south Los Angeles schools.

Maisie Chin, executive director of CADRE, said that collecting the state’s discipline policies in one document is helpful for schools trying to improve campus climate, particularly for students who suffered mental health challenges during the pandemic.

“We anticipate that as schools reopen, behavior problems will be an issue,” Chin said. “This is a good tool, a reminder for schools trying to get back on track after remote learning.”

The guidelines match the goals outlined in a 2020 legal settlement between the state and Public Counsel related to literacy rates in California schools. Under the settlement, CADRE and Public Counsel were allowed to review the guidelines.

Discipline policies were part of the literacy lawsuit because students who fall behind academically in the early grades tend to be less engaged in school and have higher discipline rates, according to the settlement.

Black students and students with disabilities are especially affected. A 2019 study by Stanford University researchers found a strong connection between racial disparities in academic achievement and school discipline. In California, 9.1% of Black students were suspended at least once in 2018-19, more than three times the rate of white students and nearly 10 times the rate of Asian students, according to the California Department of Education. Disabled students were suspended at more than twice the rate of their nondisabled peers, according to Kidsdata.

As part of the settlement, the state is also distributing $50 million in school grants to hire literacy coaches and teachers’ aides, train teachers in literacy education and purchase reading materials that reflect the cultural makeup of schools’ student populations.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond sent the new discipline guidelines to every district, charter school and county office of education in the state.

California has been shifting away from suspensions and expulsions for several years, in favor of hiring more counselors and addressing the underlying cause of students’ misbehavior. In 2019, California banned suspensions in elementary and middle schools for willful defiance, defined as disrupting school activities or defying school authorities. The state has also encouraged schools to adopt restorative justice programs, in which students talk through their conflicts and hopefully gain empathy for their classmates.

Until the pandemic closed campuses in 2020, many schools were showing progress in reducing suspensions. Los Angeles Unified, the state’s largest district, saw a 75% drop in suspensions across all categories — including an overall improvement in campus climate after banning willful defiance suspensions in 2013. Statewide, the suspension rate among all students dropped about 40% from 2011-12 to 2018-19.

LaTanya Hull, a parent in South Los Angeles, was relieved to hear the state is adopting a less punitive approach to discipline. The guidelines came too late to help her son but would “absolutely, no question” have made a difference in his life, she said.

As a sixth grader, Hull’s son Dante was expelled from middle school for injuring a classmate in a fight. Dante suffered from mental illness, his mother said, and needed psychological help, not ejection from school. The expulsion led to a cascade of other troubles, including more misbehavior and time in juvenile detention, and so far, Dante has not recovered, Hull said. Now 26 years old, he lives in a facility for people with mental illness, and Hull works with CADRE to advocate for improving school discipline policies.

“Getting expelled from school affected his whole life,” Hull said. “It affected him academically, it affected him psychologically. Schools are supposed to be a safe haven, a second home, not a pipeline to prison.”

Dan Losen, director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at UCLA, said the new guidelines are a good start, and California leads other states in creating formal guidelines for school discipline. But several key factors are missing from the guidance, he said. The state could have urged districts to reduce or eliminate school police; publish student arrest data, as required by the Every Student Succeeds Act; use American Rescue Plan funds to improve campus climate; and pay special attention to students who may have experienced trauma during the pandemic.

“The state deserves credit for bringing attention to school discipline and reminding educators of the new laws,” Losen said. “But I’d also say it’s a missed opportunity.”

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  1. Wilson 3 days ago3 days ago

    Spock says, “Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” This is how it should be. But we’re so busy catering to the students that are ruining bathrooms, breaking all classroom rules and ruining The classroom experience for their peers. We’re so worried about the few that should not be at school because there are no consequences. Kids aren’t stupid once they figure out that nothing's going … Read More

    Spock says, “Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” This is how it should be. But we’re so busy catering to the students that are ruining bathrooms, breaking all classroom rules and ruining The classroom experience for their peers. We’re so worried about the few that should not be at school because there are no consequences. Kids aren’t stupid once they figure out that nothing’s going to happen to them they continue the behavior over and over and over. I heard in our district that a middle school student was vaping at school and was seen by various teachers and they basically got a slap on the hand. The suspension at most schools is going to another facility for the day away from the students so that the school district still gets the money from the state. Schools are a business. Plain and simple. If you don’t follow the rules, the state doesn’t give you the money.

    Teachers now spend most of our day dealing with the kids who have no manners, no filter, treat other kids poorly, and talk back to you on a daily basis. It’s so incredibly sad that schools have had to take over the duty of parents. When I was a kid, if a teacher called home to report my behavior it would not have been a pleasant evening. Now we have parents that defend their kid’s tooth and nail to the death to be right. It’s all about being right. Not my kid! I think they think all teachers sit around making up stories about your kid because it’s fun.

    The kid that continually pulls down the shorts of others in PE class that has no consequence even though it continues to happen. The student that told me to F off was sent to counseling for three days and out of my class. Perfect, he was a jerk and now he’s missed three days of our class. No consequences, no reprimands, no parent involvement.

    As a PE teacher, I move the students that cannot follow the rules or be kind to their classmates away from the activity to sit alone where I can see them so that I may do my job and instruct those that are there to learn. I am done catering to the behaviors of students whose parents have refusedTo teach them manners and responsibility.

    Dear parents, please have your kids put their cell phones away and be parents and monitor their phones. You’ll be scared and horrified at the things your kids are looking at, tweeting and showing students at school. Technology in students hands is a drug. And if you think “ not my child,” you need to check in to what your students are doing and wake up. I can’t even repeat the things I have seen on middle school students phones. The addiction is real and I see it every day.

    These rules and lack of rules, student behavior with no consequences, parents who blame me for everything as though I am raising their children, will lead me to quit after 27 years. I will see how I feel in June. It makes me fear the future of California.

  2. D williamson 4 days ago4 days ago

    This is absurd: banned suspensions would obviously result in less suspensions!!! Poor Dante, schools are supposed to be “safe havens for kids”; what about the student he injured in a fight? Spend some time on a school campus, then ask yourself if we’re doing the right thing for the children who are actually ready and willing to learn. The real crime is that we don’t protect the innocent anymore!!! We sacrifice the education of many … Read More

    This is absurd: banned suspensions would obviously result in less suspensions!!! Poor Dante, schools are supposed to be “safe havens for kids”; what about the student he injured in a fight? Spend some time on a school campus, then ask yourself if we’re doing the right thing for the children who are actually ready and willing to learn.

    The real crime is that we don’t protect the innocent anymore!!! We sacrifice the education of many many students to “help” the select few who don’t behave. Where’s the study from Stanford that shows how these parents parent their children? Open your eyes California, it’s only going to get worse with these rules and guidelines.

  3. Karl 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    Another example of the wrong way to deal with school problems based on a flawed premise. When is society going to wake up and realize it is the deterioration of the family and family issues that are the #1 key. Parents, as the primary educator of their children, need to step up and be parents. They chose it, it’s their duty- not to be pushed onto society.

  4. Shira 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    As a resource teacher who pushes into many classrooms, the amount of time that is wasted because of students with behavioral issues is shocking. When students know there are no consequences for their behavior they’re going to do what they want. When are we going to start holding parents accountable for not doing their part in the equation? The article mentions more counseling, but how when the counselors are already overwhelmed with the … Read More

    As a resource teacher who pushes into many classrooms, the amount of time that is wasted because of students with behavioral issues is shocking. When students know there are no consequences for their behavior they’re going to do what they want. When are we going to start holding parents accountable for not doing their part in the equation? The article mentions more counseling, but how when the counselors are already overwhelmed with the amount of work they are already responsible for? After reading this article I’m not surprised we’re experiencing a teacher shortage. Which educated person would want to deal with this BS? Unfortunately, we’re creating a generation of students who won’t realize their actions have consequences until it’s too late.

  5. Kristina 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    This is Absolutely Absurd- no discipline, no accountability.

  6. Regina 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    What? Why should any student have to be in class with with disruptive, disrespectful and violent tendencies. Teachers are supposed to teach, not have to be solving conflicts all day. We are raising a nation where children can do no wrong. What is wrong with this group of people that decided this is a good idea. I hope all these people have to spend a year in these classrooms where this … Read More

    What? Why should any student have to be in class with with disruptive, disrespectful and violent tendencies. Teachers are supposed to teach, not have to be solving conflicts all day. We are raising a nation where children can do no wrong. What is wrong with this group of people that decided this is a good idea. I hope all these people have to spend a year in these classrooms where this is happening. I bet the rules would change real fast! Students are allowed to beat other students and teachers and they allowed to go back to school! And you actually wonder why educators are leaving and there are no new teachers to replace them? This is just the push to lose even more educators. No other profession is treated the way teachers are treated. America education system is run by a bunch of pathetic people who have never spent a day in a classroom, but expect a person to be able to teach 36 students without any support what so ever with a salary less then a Walmart associate is making right now. Good advertisement to get more teachers to move to California. Keep up the good work!

  7. Lori 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    I agree with the mom who stated school should be a safe place., but she forgot some words to end her sentence…’to learn’. As a teacher of 25 years, I have seen our government cater to and fund the minority of all areas (lower academics, lower socioeconomic, higher behavioral problems, etc) my entire career. When do we take into consideration for the majority who are there to learn? Those who came to school to … Read More

    I agree with the mom who stated school should be a safe place., but she forgot some words to end her sentence…’to learn’. As a teacher of 25 years, I have seen our government cater to and fund the minority of all areas (lower academics, lower socioeconomic, higher behavioral problems, etc) my entire career. When do we take into consideration for the majority who are there to learn? Those who came to school to learn in a safe place are being beaten up, dumbed down with watered down education, given less resources to be enriched because the money is going to fund programs that basically teach a kid how to BE NICE, SHOW EMPATHY TO OTHERS, and ways to cope with their IMPULSE CONTROL. Although colleges are beginning to adapt and spitting out graduate teachers who are accepting this ideology, most teachers went to college or grad school to teach a subject(s) they are passionate about in hopes to make a difference in a student, not to coddle water down their plans just to fit SEL in their class plans. When will families be looked into as a place for changes to be made? I did a side job with Youth First one year. We met with families and taught lessons on SEL sorts of problems in a way that brought the family together and they spent time together. The efforts were put on them to do the grunt work and be consistent in THEIR efforts. It was a great program to catch kids in their early youth to focus on the family. Where did that go? It fell on the teachers and counselor’s shoulders. I am ending this rant by stating, I love my job. I love that I have a special education background. I love that I have a Masters in Elementary Counseling. I hate that government thinks I (or others with the same or better credentials) are the saviors of kids who have much bigger problems going on than what can be solved in teacher’s day. If we keep following this path of ‘no consequences for our poor choices’, I can see “The Purge” become a reality rather than movies on the big screen.

  8. Sarah 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    It’s unfortunate that no correlation was made to the bad behavior and the lack of parenting. “Pre pandemic improvement” and now increased behavior situations at school points a strong finger not at the school system. If an overweight person has health issues and sees a doctor for treatment do we blame the doctor or the health industry for this person’s behavior and if the doctor prescribed a treatment plan that the patient does not follow … Read More

    It’s unfortunate that no correlation was made to the bad behavior and the lack of parenting. “Pre pandemic improvement” and now increased behavior situations at school points a strong finger not at the school system. If an overweight person has health issues and sees a doctor for treatment do we blame the doctor or the health industry for this person’s behavior and if the doctor prescribed a treatment plan that the patient does not follow do we them blame the doctor? I don’t understand how the school is equipped for raising kids. The worst part is all of the other kids who are impact by the bad behaving few. Restorative justice is a great idea in an alternative location where others can be kept safe and victims not re-victimized by seeing the perpetrator(s) daily. If we truly want to address mental health issues then it needs to be a revamp of healthcare not education. Children should be evaluated yearly, from birth, just like a wellness check for the body so to should there be one for the mind. Early treatments could be a much better solution than waiting until they’re in junior high and trying to get them some long overdue counsel.

  9. Callie 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    Who is going to fund the counselors for the students? Who is going to make up for the disruption of education for those who behave? Who is going to pay for all the mental health issues of the teachers who have to deal with these kids who think they are entitled to everything ? You want to bring teachers back? Then we need to DISCIPLINE kids who don’t behave, not just … Read More

    Who is going to fund the counselors for the students? Who is going to make up for the disruption of education for those who behave? Who is going to pay for all the mental health issues of the teachers who have to deal with these kids who think they are entitled to everything ? You want to bring teachers back? Then we need to DISCIPLINE kids who don’t behave, not just counsel them. Actions have consequences

  10. R 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    I am a special needs educator. It is important for students to have consequences. Positive discipline works for most students, not all. Trauma, life experiences, environment, parents, we, as teachers, are here to educate and case manage, not to counsel mental health. There is NOT any, if at all, help for these issues. We cannot force parents to take their students and themselves for the help they need outside of school. What about … Read More

    I am a special needs educator. It is important for students to have consequences. Positive discipline works for most students, not all. Trauma, life experiences, environment, parents, we, as teachers, are here to educate and case manage, not to counsel mental health. There is NOT any, if at all, help for these issues. We cannot force parents to take their students and themselves for the help they need outside of school. What about my students who want to be safe and not have cuss words, and items thrown at them hourly? It’s unfortunate that my students have to endure a student who does not get support that is needed. There are two sides to discipline issues. The victims also need support after being bullied by the ones who need support as well.

  11. Christina 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    Never is it an issue with the parenting or lack thereof. The mom is right, school should be a safe haven but not just for her kid. How do you protect those students who are there to learn vs. those whose parents treat it like free daycare. How about the kid in Moreno Valley who was murdered by two students on the campus, didn’t he deserve a safe haven?

  12. Cory 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    A lot of the examples that these types of articles refer to never speak about the rights of other students to attend a safe school. You spoke to a parent who has a child who has severe phycological needs and has demonstrated that they hurt others. Have you spoken to the victim that was injured. Schools are not supposed to be in the business of handling severe phycological needs students that harm others. To think … Read More

    A lot of the examples that these types of articles refer to never speak about the rights of other students to attend a safe school. You spoke to a parent who has a child who has severe phycological needs and has demonstrated that they hurt others. Have you spoken to the victim that was injured. Schools are not supposed to be in the business of handling severe phycological needs students that harm others. To think that the school is blamed for not being able to help this child is not doing your homework and is what is wrong with our society. Some students have special needs beyond the ability of public schools to address. If the author looked further than the simple push of restorative justice they would see that child has been probably had trama from that same parental parent who blames everyone else for her child’s issues. Schools will do there best, but if you can’t keep the others safe from students that will harm by removing them then any normal parent who wants to keep their students safe will take them to a different school. Then what are public schools left with. Dangerous students that everyone will be afraid to be around. I challenge the author to come and teach in my district.

    Replies

    • Gina 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

      Cory, agreed. What about the right of the other students to be safe? What about the staff’s right to safety? The article makes it sounds as if staff isn’t doing everything possible to support students. They are.
      Also, is the state going to bring people with money for the new positions? There are many o[pen positions that re not getting filled.

  13. Rob 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    So who’s going to fund all these counselors and extra staff members? My school can’t even afford COLA for the last six years.