One of America's most liberal bastions — San Francisco — has cut student suspensions by nearly a third in three years but continues to struggle with grossly disproportionate suspensions of black students.
District data obtained by Public Counsel, the country's largest pro bono legal group, and community organizers in San Francisco show that African-American students represented only 8 percent of the city's public high school kids last school year. Yet 50 percent of high school students suspended for misbehavior labeled "willful defiance” were black.
Willful defiance is a vague, catchall category for disruptive student behavior that can range from arriving late to using foul language to refusing to obey instructions.
The district’s black and Latino students are 10 percent and 23 percent, respectively, of the student population.Together, however, students of these ethnic backgrounds comprised 77 percent of all student suspensions and 81 percent of all suspensions for willful defiance.
Just as The City by the Bay is challenged by sharp income divides, its schools, too, suffer from a wide gap in academic achievement between white student and those who are black or Latino.
High rates of suspension result in poor academic performance as out-of-school kids fall behind and disengage from school, said Laura Faer, Public Counsel’s California statewide education rights director.
“These go hand in hand,” she said. “They are not separate.”
Suspensions, Public Counsel has said, are like an “unsupervised vacation” from school, with damaging consequences for students.
On Tuesday, the San Francisco Unified School District’s Board of Education began considering a resolution introduced by a member to eliminate, by next fall, the option to suspend students for willful defiance.
“We’ve made some progress in reducing suspensions overall,” said Matt Haney, who introduced the “Safe and Supportive Schools” resolution.
Despite that, Haney said, “the numbers for African American students remain not just troubling, but shocking.”
The resolution calls for out-of-school suspensions to be “an absolute last resort.”
In San Francisco schools, more than two-thirds of all suspensions were for willful defiance.