Calif. state senator wants 'roundtable' on school expulsions

iWatch News report on Kern County expulsions sparks debate

The school expulsion capital of California, Kern County, continues to debate whether changes are needed to reduce the number of students that are removed.  

In a May 7 opinion piece in the local Bakersfield Californian newspaper, California State Sen. Michael Rubio called for “an expulsion roundtable” to be held Friday at the Bakersfield City School District offices. Rubio’s piece touches on revelations in a Center for Public Integrity report published last December that included an analysis of California state discipline data for the 2010-2011 school year.

“According to the Center for Public Integrity,” Rubio, who wrote, “most expulsions in Kern County were actually discretionary to school district officials, such as for defiance of authority or using obscenity or vulgarity — not for "zero tolerance" violations, such as bringing a gun to school or selling controlled substances on campus.”

“Students who break a ‘zero tolerance’ rule should never be tolerated, but when relatively small Kern County is expelling more kids than huge Los Angeles County, our expulsion process should be closely examined,” said Rubio, who represents part of Kern. The county is in California’s Central Valley, and is an agricultural and oil-production center.

Rubio noted that minority students are “especially impacted.” As the Center reported in March, newly released federal data showed that black students at one high school in Bakersfield represented 15 percent of all student in 2009-2010, but 25 percent of those suspended and 29 percent of all expulsions. The statistics were collected by the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection from Kern’s schools and later analyzed.  

“These alarming expulsion trends can be found at several schools in Kern County,” Rubio said, “so we must address this crisis head-on.”

As part of a solution, Rubio said he has co-authored a state bill that would require schools that suspend more than 25 percent of their student body or more than 25 percent of a specific minority group to enact a strategy to reverse that trend.

At least one teacher fired back at Rubio. David Richmond, a teacher at Arvin High School in Kern County, wrote a response to Rubio that was published by the Bakersfield Californian May 13.

“Although a significant majority of our students are sent to school with an understanding of basic social values, there is a significant minority that comes to school not ready or willing to learn,” Richmond wrote. “I can accept the ‘not ready,’ but I refuse, as a classroom teacher, to accept the ‘not willing.’"

“Public schools were not created to become baby sitters for lazy and indifferent students,” Richmond said. “However, if you look at the data, we spend an inordinate amount of money on 10 percent of the students who also take up significant time in the classroom.”

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