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Public Counsel Launches Second Version of Successful 'Fix School Discipline Toolkit' and Resource Website

Feb 14, 2017

First Version of Toolkit Served as Key Tool in Raising Awareness of Need for Reform of Suspension & Expulsion Practices and Facilitated Changes Statewide

Click HERE to Download the Newest Toolkit

When Public Counsel launched the website “FixSchoolDiscipline.org” in 2012, its goal was to raise awareness about the fact that using harsh discipline practices can push students out of school, and to highlight alternative to suspension and expulsion. Five years later – after securing the passage of five discipline related bills in the California legislature, successfully urging L.A. Unified to enact a sweeping discipline reform policy, and developing a toolkit that has been used by school districts across the state to enact reforms – Public Counsel has released a major revision of the toolkit to reflect the new landscape of discipline reform in California.

“It’s incredible how far California has come in five years,” said Ruth Cusick, a senior staff attorney with Public Counsel’s Statewide Education Rights Project. “We’ve moved beyond simply raising awareness. Our new toolkit includes details on effective reform implementation, best practices, and highlights more than a half-a-dozen success stories. The goal is to empower community members and educators to enact reforms in their own school.”

The recent shift in how many California school districts approach discipline has been remarkable. Between the 2011-12 and 2014-15 school years, suspensions in California decreased by 40%.  As a result, there was a drop of nearly 300,000 suspensions annually. There has been an even bigger percentage drop in students suspended for a vaguely defined behavioral infraction called “willful defiance” – such as chewing gum in class, or wearing the wrong clothes. These types of suspensions have decreased by 63%.

Community groups and reformers have identified suspensions for “willful defiance” as particularly problematic because their subjective nature can lead to racial bias. In California, African American students are three times more likely to be suspended as their white peers – even though studies have identified no evidence that Black students actually misbehave at higher rates.

“The point of all this,” Cusick observed, “is to help build more just, healthy school environments for everyone – students, teachers, administrators – by reducing the reliance on punitive discipline practices. Research shows that systems that promote positive behaviors, and address negative ones with the goal of keeping students in school, create better results for everyone. Test scores rise, drop-out rates decrease, and schools can even receive more funding because their attendance rates improve.”

School districts across California have clearly taken note. Public Counsel reports that four county offices of education, and six school districts have requested copies of the “Fix School Discipline” toolkit. Additionally, Public Counsel has worked closely with the Los Angeles County and Orange County Offices of Education to conduct trainings and implement meaningful reform efforts. In total, Public Counsel has distributed more than 5,600 copies of the original toolkit – both in paper and electronic form. Its “Fix School Discipline” website has 5,000 visitors each month.

“As a Restorative Justice facilitator and as a trainer for Restorative Practices in schools, it is an honor to have our work featured in the Fix School Discipline toolkit. There is so much misperception about these practices that having this comprehensive resource is key to building bridges with educators,” shared Schoene Mahmood, of the Loyola Marymont Restorative Justice Project.

Public Counsel’s redesigned “FixSchoolDiscipline.org” website launched today, and an electronic copy of the newly revised “Fix School Discipline Toolkit for Educators” is now available for download from the website. These resources offer information and implementation tips on specific types of reforms – such as “School-Wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports,” “Restorative Justice,” and “Social Emotional Learning.” They also provide information on identifying funding sources, understanding racial bias, and offer an overview of the relevant legal milieu.

“We are thrilled to be able to share these new resources with educators,” said Anabel Agloro, a staff attorney with Public Counsel’s Statewide Education Rights Project. “For the past five months we’ve worked to assemble this powerful collection of tools and insights for effectively implementing school discipline reforms. There has been significant progress in California, and today’s launch of our revised toolkit and website is a key step towards helping the quarter-million students who still get suspended in California every year.”

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