In Lodi Unified School District, black students are being expelled at a higher rate than non-black students.
Although black students made up only 9 percent of the district’s population, they accounted for 25 percent of the expulsions in 2009-10, and 32 percent last school year, according to the United States Department of Education.
Overall, at 34 percent, the district expels more Hispanic students — but they also make up the majority of enrollment, at 39 percent.
Lester Patrick, an outspoken Lodi Unified critic and Measure L committee member, says expulsion rates change depending on who is leading the district.
“This is not the first time this has been identified. I had pointed this out 10 years ago,” he said.
But school board members insist a student’s race is the least of their concerns when making a final decision on an expulsion. The board receives extensive information on each student during closed session meetings, including the details of the behavior that resulted in an expulsion recommendation, the student’s history and personal data.
Board president Ron Heberle said trustees don’t focus on overall trends.
“None of us look at that. We look at each individual case and all the information that comes with it. That’s how we make our decisions,” he said.
A national issue
In a report released this month, the U.S. Department of Education found minority students across America face harsher discipline. Among the key findings are:
- Black students, particularly males, are far more likely to be suspended or expelled from school than their peers.
- Black students made up 18 percent of the students in the survey sample, but 35 percent of the students suspended once and 39 percent of the students expelled.
- More than 400,000 California students were suspended at least once during the 2009-10 school year.
- Minority students and students with disabilities were suspended at five times the rate of their classmates.
In the Galt Joint Union High School District, where there are fewer black students than the state average, most of those expelled are Hispanic, according to figures provided by Estrellita High School principal Tony Lara who oversees the district’s data.
Of the 13 expelled so far this school year, seven, or 54 percent, are Hispanic; five, or 38 percent, are white; and one is black.
Hispanic students make up 42 percent of the district’s population, while 48 percent are white and 2 percent are black.
In the past nine years that Lara has been handling expulsions, he said current figures are on the low end. In a regular year, the district averages between 20 and 30 cases.
Of the 16 expulsions last school year, half of the students were Hispanic, five were white, two were black and one was listed as “other,” according to Lara.
Under state law, students can be expelled beginning in eighth grade. And it happens.
At McCaffrey Middle School in Galt, for example, 10 students were expelled in 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
All were Hispanic. The district’s ethnic make-up is 53 percent Hispanic, 38 percent white and 3 percent black.
Last year, of the 18 expulsions, 13 (or 72 percent) were Hispanic, according to Robert Nacario, the district’s director of educational services.
Most expulsions at McCaffrey are related to possession of marijuana, while the next biggest offense is possession of a knife or other dangerous object, Nacario said.
All students, regardless of race, receive the same punishment, according to school officials.
Stephen Takemoto, Lodi Unified’s child welfare and attendance coordinator, said the district’s rates are changing. He has overseen district expulsions for the last two years.
“Our numbers seem to be dropping in regards to students of color, and our Caucasian numbers are going up,” he said of expulsions.
Still, of the 96 cases in Lodi Unified in 2010-11, 31 (or 32 percent) students were black, up from the previous year. Of the others, 31 were Hispanic (32 percent), 19 white (20 percent) and the rest came from various Asian backgrounds.
“Most of our expulsions of Hispanic or African-American students come from North Stockton schools,” Takemoto said.
Marijuana and alcohol-related infractions account for many expulsions. If a student is involved in two fistfights or has been suspended for 20 days within a single school year, they are recommended for expulsion, according to Takemoto.
Students expelled from all Lodi Unified schools are referred to the San Joaquin County Community Schools program until they are eligible to return to a regular school district. Others are sent to educational programs within the district, such as the Walter Katnich Community Day School at Henderson School.
The student agrees to adhere to a contract that governs his or her behavior and academic progress at the alternative schools. Should the student meet the terms of the contract, they are allowed back into a traditional campus — sometimes within one semester or less.
Depending on the age of the student, the Galt Joint Union Elementary School District may enroll the student in its home study program.
The Galt high school district typically enrolls its probationary students in Estrellita Continuation High School with a special behavioral contract, or they are sent to community day schools in neighboring Elk Grove, according to Superintendent Daisy Lee.
About eight years ago, Lodi Unified incorporated a staff development program by educator and author Ruby Payne, called “aha! Process.” It makes staff more aware of cultural differences between themselves and students from diverse home environments or impoverished backgrounds, and outlines ways to bridge those gaps. It also teaches how those differences affect the way students behave in schools.
In Lodi Unified, it was used to show teachers how to identify the role race played in their decisions. Many teachers didn’t realize they were sending more black students to the office. When it was pointed out, the rate changed.
Schools that stick to the program also tend to have better API scores and fewer expulsions, according to Takemoto.
“Once you build a relationship with a student, they’re going to want to perform better,” he said. “(Staff) see the advantage of students who are engaged; they will go that extra step to please the teacher. It’s huge.”
The district went through quite a bit of staff development in dealing with different tricky subjects, including understanding gangs and poverty, to get a real understanding of where students are coming from, according to Takemoto.
He said it was an effective program, but budget cuts starting about two years ago mean less opportunity for staff development days to brush up on those skills.
Patrick said Payne’s guidelines haven’t been enforced or taught in the years since it was put into place, and he believes it is time for that program to come back to schools.
“The tone from school board management is that it’s simply OK. They simply do not care about African-American students. They will not monitor that close enough to ensure that the trend does not get worse,” said Patrick, who also runs Alpha Phi Alpha, a peer mentoring program for black males.
“The (board’s) attitude matters,” he added. “It sets the tone for the whole district. Unless you have people in management who care, it’s not going to change.”
Takemoto sees more vocational classes and a more progressive approach to discipline as good options.
In Galt, the elementary district is working to make positive changes through the city’s new Galt Youth Master Plan, which focuses on programs that could keep students out of trouble.
“It is connection with caring adults where we do seem to fall short,” Nacario said of data recently collected in a California Healthy Kids survey. “Kids rely on mentors to provide direction towards the positive.”
Still, he cautions against looking too closely at the trends.
“We need to take care in considering what ‘more minorities’ means to a particular school. What most consider to be ethnic minority is actually the majority in Galt in terms of our school district enrollment,” Nacario said.
While most might consider the majority to be white students, they make up only about one-third of the elementary district’s students.
“We aren’t going to hide the fact that there is some disproportionality in our expulsion numbers,” Nacario said. “Race is a historical problem that goes far beyond school expulsion, though. It is something for all of us to consider when making judgments about any group or how people behave towards a group.”