Beth Winegarner's news articles

San Francisco Bay Area community news

Archive for the ‘Student Discipline’ Category

Expulsion rate at SFUSD climbs

leave a comment »

Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
January 23, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO — More San Francisco public school students have been expelled since August than in the entire 2007-08 school year, and parents and city leaders are questioning whether the school district is following state laws when disciplining kids.

Between August and December, the San Francisco Unified School District received 81 expulsion requests from schools and expelled 16 students.

The majority of cases were dismissed or referred for counseling, Ricky Jones, the school district’s director of pupil services, said Thursday at a joint meeting of members of the Board of Supervisors and Board of Education.

In 2007-08, 97 students were recommended for expulsion and 11 were expelled. In 2006-07, 79 were recommended and 16 were expelled, Jones said.

“We’re seeing more challenged kids, and times are just tougher,” said Trish Bascom, head of student support services for the school district. “We’re also identifying problems with students sooner, and identifying services for them.”

At the same time, parents say their children missed months of classes while waiting for their expulsion hearings to take place — part of the process of determining whether a student will be permanently kicked out of school.

In Thursday’s hearing on the expulsion process, Jones said his short-staffed office is struggling to handle disciplinary requests quickly. The committee took no action and has no authority with the school district.

State law requires students to be expelled for possessing weapons, selling drugs, attempting or committing sexual assault or possessing an explosive, and recommends expulsion for many other violent acts, according to Jones.

Two parents, Todd Waterman and Ian Hadley, said their sons have been suspended from school for several weeks for nonviolent offenses, and both expulsion case have yet to receive hearings.

“We’ve seen a shift in the past semester, more severe discipline for minor practices,” said Lauren Brady Blalock, an attorney with Legal Services for Children, which represents parents in discipline cases.

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Advertisements

Written by Beth Winegarner

January 23, 2009 at 5:43 AM

Balance of discipline

leave a comment »

Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
January 22, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO — Blacks and Hispanics are a small slice of The City’s public school population, but make up roughly three-quarters of students who are suspended or expelled.

Blacks make up 7 percent of The City’s total population and 12.5 percent of students within the San Francisco Unified School District. However, half the students who face disciplinary action belong to this ethnic group, according to district data.

Another 20 to 30 percent of those disciplined are Hispanic. They account for 23 percent of school district students and 14 percent of San Francisco’s population.

Leaders within and outside the school district said the numbers are troubling — and more than one cited the data as evidence of racism within SFUSD.

“Just look at the data. We are so wrong, and we want to get to the bottom of it,” said Board of Education member Kim-Shree Maufas. “It may be that this happened over time, through misunderstanding, through cultural incompetence.”

The Board of Education has the authority to approve or deny expulsions, but does not vote on suspension cases, according to SFUSD spokeswoman Gentle Blythe.

Meanwhile, Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier is holding an unrelated hearing today on the SFUSD’s expulsion process. The advisory hearing, hosted by the City and School District Select Committee, will be held at 3:30 p.m. at City Hall.

Board of Education member Jane Kim said she has pushed for more case-by-case information, in part to track which schools or teachers are handing down punishments at higher rates. They should be looking for more creative ways to deter behavior problems, she said.

“We discovered at Galileo High School [that] 80 percent of their suspensions — primarily African-Americans — were being done by one teacher,” Kim said. “It is evidence of racial discrimination that’s left in our schools.”

Two teachers at Galileo High referred a large number of black students for disciplinary action, according to Blythe, who added that both have since retired.

Teachers who discipline minority students may not be conscious they’re doing it, said Dennis Kelly, president of San Francisco’s teachers’ union.

“To the degree that it’s racism, I think it’s subconscious racism,” Kelly said, adding that some teachers avoid disciplining black or Hispanic students for fear that they would be accused of prejudice.

The higher rate of disciplinary measures for some groups of minority students is not unlike SFUSD’s achievement gap, which shows that black and Hispanic students are significantly behind the pace of white and Asian students. Students who are already on shaky ground academically are put at further risk when they miss class due to a suspension.

Although students who are suspended typically return to school within a few days, high school students who are expelled have less chance to make up time missed. They frequently transfer to a continuation school such as Downtown High School, where the dropout rate is nearly 70 percent, according to the California Department of Education.

SFUSD policies urge teachers and principals to consider sending students to counselors or other services when they run into trouble; it also has a peer court — where discipline cases are resolved through mediation — at a handful of schools.

However, overworked educators may not make time for those methods, particularly since filling out a suspension form takes 10 minutes, said Pecolia Manigo, director of youth organizing for Coleman Advocates, a family-focused nonprofit.

“I’ve watched kids get suspended for the dumbest things, like one wouldn’t give his cell phone up,” Manigo said. “Another was talking back to the teacher. You’re suspending kids because they’re being kids.”

Teachers need to make their curriculum more engaging for students whose out-of-school reality involves poverty, violence and family crises, Manigo said.

Hoover Lidell, a consultant to Superintendent Carlos Garcia, said students simply need a challenge, and academic achievement can reduce students’ discipline problems.

“Particularly among black youth, there’s too much remediation, but they’re very capable students,” Lidell said. “By not giving them academic rigor, kids get a second-class education.”

Truancy, dropout rates higher among minorities
Black and Hispanic youths make up the lion’s share of discipline cases in San Francisco public schools — but that’s not the only place they’re overrepresented.

Black kids also made up 38 percent of the students who missed more than 20 days of school during the 2007-08 school year, and 27 percent of black high school students in the class of 2007 dropped out before receiving their diplomas, according to the California Department of Education.

Hispanic students comprised 33 percent of students who missed more than 20 days of school in 2007-08, and 26 percent of Hispanic high school kids dropped out in 2007. Hispanic youths accounted for 24 percent of the Juvenile Hall population in October.

Both District Attorney Kamala Harris and Juvenile Probation Chief William Siffermann have said that students who miss school or drop out wind up in the justice system or become victims of violent crime.

In October, 60 percent of San Francisco Juvenile Hall inmates were black, according to the Juvenile Probation Department.

“At the end of the civil-rights movement, blacks and Latinos were in power; now, these kids are second-class citizens again,” said educator James Calloway, who ran for the Board of Education last fall. “Until we get a grip and call it what it is — racism — it’s not going to get any better.”

Court offers a second chance
Students who run into trouble in San Francisco schools sometimes have the option of facing a court of peers rather than being ousted from school or arrested.

The San Francisco Peer Court, formally launched in 2003, is administered by a San Francisco-based nonprofit mediation and arbitration organization called California Community Dispute Services.

The program operates at Visitacion Valley, Everett and Denman middle schools, and at the Civic Center Secondary School, which is for middle and high school students. Since its founding, 360 youths have moved through the program, diverting 338 days of suspension, 20 expulsions and 25 arrests, according to director Tony Litwak.

Students face disciplinary action for a variety of actions, ranging from fights with fellow students to bringing weapons to school. The mediation process — handled by trained students — forces these students to face their victims and consider the harm they’ve caused, according to Litwak.

“Sentences” range from community service to restitution fines, or even writing papers to learn the effects of what they’ve done.

“When confronted with that, the adolescent understands what they’ve done more concretely,” Litwak said. “Some kids, their behavior is so strong you’re not going to change them. But on the other end, there are kids who are mortified to be [in court].”

Roughly 25 percent of kids who go to court wind up volunteering as mediators, he said.

The San Francisco Unified School District approved a funding increase next year to boost the court’s budget — $212,000 in the 2008-09 school year — but economic shortfalls have forced officials to suspend that funding, according to Board of Education member Jane Kim.

Grounds for suspension, expulsion
The San Francisco Unified School District student handbook outlines some of the grounds for which a student can face disciplinary action:

Suspension
Possession of drugs; explosives; mace or pepper spray without parents’ permission; a stun gun; tobacco products; school keys without authorization
Assault
Graffiti
Hazing
Robbery
Threats or abuse toward fellow students

Expulsion
Selling drugs
Possession of explosives, weapons, stun gun
Arson
Assault
Extortion
Hate violence
Hazing
Robbery
Threats or abuse toward fellow students
Source: SFUSD student handbook

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

January 22, 2009 at 5:48 AM

Anti-gang program at odds with school

leave a comment »

Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
January 20, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO — A group that works to deter kids from joining gangs said its programs at Mission High School were banished after organizers protested high suspension rates among Hispanic students. School administrators, however, said it’s a case of miscommunication.

After three years at Mission High, Homies Organizing the Mission to Empower Youth was asked to leave the school in December, when it failed to resolve tensions with school leaders, according to Principal Eric Guthertz.

While HOMEY officials said those tensions arose because of underreported suspensions and expulsions, Guthertz said they had more to do with a lack of organization on the organization’s part. HOMEY officials asked the Board of Education last week to intervene and quickly reinstate their Mission High programs.

The flap comes as Supervisor Michaela Alioto-Pier is holding an unrelated hearing Thursday on San Francisco Unified School District’s expulsion process. The advisory hearing will be at 3:30 p.m. in City Hall.

“We do case management with highest-risk youth, and we were losing six to 10 each semester because of [disciplinary action],” said HOMEY director Rene Quinonez. “A lot of them are monolingual, so when the school sent them home for an afternoon to cool down, they’d often feel they were no longer welcome.”

Program director Jose Luis Pavon accused the school of singling out Hispanic students for disciplinary action.

Mission High School had the highest suspension rate — 180 students out of 924 — among The City’s public schools in 2007-08. Its truancy rate was 52 percent, and 69 percent the prior year, according to the California Department of Education.

Guthertz acknowledged those figures, but said Mission High launched a program this year where teachers and administrators are trained monthly in how to treat students equally. The year-to-date suspension rate has already dropped by half, and only a small percentage are Hispanic, he said.

“We appreciate the work HOMEY does,” Guthertz said. “But there were major issues with their planning and administrative development, and inaccurate accounting. We’re not the only school having problems with them.”

Several students and HOMEY clients lined up at last week’s Board of Education meeting, pleading to bring the group back to Mission High.

“I was on the verge of being on the streets and joining a gang,” said student Raphael Moreno. “Now I’m on my way to a four-year college because of HOMEY.”

District officials are working to mediate an agreement between Mission High and HOMEY officials, according to Jane Kim, vice president of the Board of Education.

Mission High School
2007-08

Enrollment: 924
Truancy rate: 52 percent
Suspensions: 180*
Expulsions: 0

2006-07
Enrollment: 864
Truancy rate: 69 percent
Suspensions: 117
Expulsions: 0

Latino suspensions, districtwide:
2006-07: 983 (26 percent of total)
2007-08: 1104 (27 percent of total)

*Highest number of any school in San Francisco Unified School District

Sources: California Department of Education, SFUSD

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

January 20, 2009 at 5:46 AM

Truancy enforcement ramps up

with one comment

Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
December 24, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO — Parents of kids who skip class are again in the crosshairs, as the San Francisco district attorney gears up to prosecute a new batch of caretakers of truants.

The stepped-up enforcement efforts are one piece of a large patchwork of programs aimed at ending chronic truancy in schools.

District Attorney Kamala Harris’ office prosecuted parents in six families last summer, after their kids missed more than 50 days of classes. In all cases, the children have since returned to school, although one had to be placed in foster care to make it happen, Harris told The Examiner.

The parents were given court-mandated instructions to keep their children in school and get support for the problems contributing to truancy, or face increased penalties, including a $2,500 fine or up to a year in jail.

Since then, another half dozen or so families have failed to keep their kids in school; the District Attorney’s Office is examining their situations closely.

“More cases have been referred to us by the school district, and we’re prepared to prosecute them,” Harris said.

Her attorneys also have mediated more than 1,000 truancy cases before they reached the prosecution stage.

Still, curbing truancy is a vexing problem.

Last school year, 5,449 San Francisco public school students missed more than 10 days of school. Of those, 2,472 were elementary school students, according to data from the San Francisco Unified School District. A student is considered habitually truant when they miss 10 days; a chronically truant student is one who misses more than 20 days.

Those numbers have increased slightly from 5,427 in 2005-06 and 5,417 in 2006-07. District officials could not produce new data for the 2008-09 school year.

Harris launched a $20,000 ad campaign in September urging the public to call a hot line if they see kids playing hooky from school.

The hot line received just seven calls that month and two in October, according to figures provided by the school district.

Not every call is going to that hot line, according to Harris.

“Since our ad campaign, we’ve had many anonymous calls and we’re referring those calls to the (school) district,” she said. “People are paying more attention, and that’s good.”

Meanwhile, the school district launched a Web-based program this year called School Loop, which allows parents to see everything from their child’s homework assignments to their unexcused absences, according to Superintendent Carlos Garcia.

“Our anti-truancy programs were designed not to punish people, but to find out why they’re missing school,” he said. “Sometimes it’s as simple as arranging child care. But the D.A.’s effort helps. We can say, ‘If you keep doing this, you’ll wind up in the [District Attorney’s] Office.’”

City officials have floated a number of truancy-fighting ideas, from boosting police intervention to enacting a daytime curfew, but none have moved forward.

One city-funded program, the Bayview-based Center for Academic Re-Entry and Empowerment, is helping hard-core truants transition back into public schools, according to Director Ethan Ramson.

Since its opening at the Bayview YMCA in February, the center has worked with more than 60 high-school-age kids, 24 of whom have returned to public school or obtained their diploma equivalent.

Leader urging adults to tell kids to quit playing hooky
One of San Francisco’s newest techniques for battling truancy could be a very old-fashioned idea: adults telling hooky-playing kids to get back to school.

Ethan Ramson, who directs the Bayview YMCA-based Center for Academic Re-Entry and Empowerment, plans to launch a new program next year in which Bayview district merchants and other adults talk to truant kids, or ask police to do it.

“When I was growing up, if I didn’t go to school, my mom knew about it by the time I got home,” Ramson said. “We want to get the elders involved. We’ve gotten away from that.”

One reason for that decline is that adults increasingly fear juveniles, according to William Siffermann, chief of the San Francisco Juvenile Probation Department.

Adults often feel that wayward teens are dangerous, and possibly carrying weapons, according to Siffermann. And with good reason: Many juvenile crimes, from graffiti to burglaries, are committed when youths would otherwise be in school, he said.

Left alone, many truants lead violent, and often short, lives, according to District Attorney Kamala Harris. Nearly 75 percent of truants ultimately drop out. Since 2003, 94 percent of San Francisco’s homicide victims under 25 were high school dropouts, according to Harris’ Office.

“There will be those in public safety who say, “Don’t engage these kids because it may provoke an attack,’” Siffermann said. “But I’m supportive of us elevating vigilance. As adults, we shouldn’t be afraid.”

District attorney promoting truancy prosecutions statewide
San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris has prosecuted a half-dozen parents whose children are chronically truant, and plans to prosecute more. Now, she’s urging other district attorneys across California to take similar measures to keep kids in school.

Should The City or school district hire truancy officers to round kids up and send them back to school? “I think this is an issue that requires many sectors and agencies to be involved. One of the ways we distribute resources is we say, ‘This is a priority.’ But that doesn’t mean we hire more people.

“My focus has been on truancy in elementary and middle school. And when you talk about [those students], we’re not necessarily seeing them on the streets. When you’re talking about a 7-year-old, likely they’re staying at home.”

Should The City pursue a daytime curfew and take legal action against kids who are not in school? “I’d want to know what age group are we targeting, what would be the penalty and method of enforcement and all of that. I can’t speak to that idea until I get some details.”

Other cities have used a variety of methods for curbing truancy; which models have you studied, and which ones do you think could work in San Francisco? “We’ve been working with California District Attorneys Association, sharing our method with other counties. In terms of best practices in other counties, they involve very much what we’ve been doing: a court model.

“Some jurisdictions have a truancy court. Some may prosecute high school kids, but we chose not to focus on that — we’ve been prosecuting parents, not children. I’m not saying prosecuting kids is not the way to go, but I’ve got limited resources. It’s certainly not because we shouldn’t be thinking about high school kids who don’t go to school. But bad habits start early. The kid who is chronically truant in elementary and middle school will be a dropout in high school.”

Are there any demographic trends among the cases you handle? “There’s no question there’s a correlation between the population you see as truant; it’s the same as a high school dropout, and who will occupy the County Jail and state prison. We’re seeing is a disproportionately high number of African American and Latino youth who are part of that whole trajectory.”

Is it something cultural or are there institutional frameworks in the schools that work against these kids? “It’s not that certain cultures are not interested in education. There’s a connection to poverty, access, support, child care for younger children, transportation issues.

“I always concede that it is legitimate to have a very long conversation about how we can improve public education in our state. But one thing we know for sure is regardless of what you think is the quality of education, if they’re not in school, they’re not getting an education at all.”

What will the District Attorney’s Office continue to do with respect to truants? “Part of what I hope to do is continue to raise the profile of truancy as one of the direct causes of victimization and crime, and one of the first indicators of who will be a perpetrator of crime. The links are direct between a child going without an education and an adult who is sucking up all our resources in the state prison. People think we should pay attention to kids because they’re cute and cuddly. I pay attention because in 16 years they’re going to be committing crimes against us if we don’t.”

Staying in school
Anti-truancy efforts in San Francisco schools:

Center for Academic Re-Entry and Empowerment (C.A.R.E) at Bayview-Hunters Point YMCA: Serves 20 truant youths at a time, offering basic English, math and other courses to help students prepare to return to public school. Launched in March, it has already served 65 kids.

District Attorney’s Office truancy court: Has prosecuted parents in a half-dozen severe cases, and is looking at prosecuting another batch. Also reviews and provides case management for 1,000 other families, primarily of elementary and middle school students.

Stay in School Coalition: Operated by the San Francisco Unified School District, it includes many city agencies and community-based organizations that work to provide support for truants.

Attendance liaisons: School-based staff who keep track of students missing school regularly, reporting them both to parents and to the Stay in School Coalition. Serious cases are referred to the District Attorney’s Office.

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

December 24, 2008 at 4:55 AM

Curfew idea sees light of day

leave a comment »

Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
September 15, 2008

City and school officials have pursued numerous approaches to encourage students and parents to curb truancy, but some leaders say San Francisco needs to do more to just pick loitering minors up off the streets and return them to school.

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi is pushing the San Francisco Unified School District, police and other agencies to step up enforcement of truancy laws, he told The Examiner on Monday.

At the same time, the Office of Criminal Justice is weighing a daytime curfew as one possible tool for keeping kids in the classroom, according to the office’s Maya Dillard-Smith.

“We need to get back to basics, and either have a trained protocol with the Police Department or another branch of government that can encounter truants and their parents and then have a facility where they’re able to admit them,” Mirkarimi said.

Police do pick up truant students and take them back to class or to The City’s lone truancy center, housed at the Bayview YMCA, according to police spokesman Neville Gittens.

However, Keith Choy, director of the school district’s truancy program, said police don’t get involved that often.

“What I hear from police is, ‘I should save my uniform for more substantive crimes,’ or ‘We don’t have a place to take them,’” Choy said.

Across the district, Choy has a staff of 65 attendance counselors — and one of their jobs is knocking on parents’ doors when kids start missing school. “I wish there were more,” he said.

The number of students who missed 10 or more days of school has held steady for the past three years, though it increased slightly to 5,449 in 2007-08, the same year District Attorney Kamala Harris began prosecuting parents of the worst offenders.

Six parents were given court-mandated instructions to keep their children in school and to get support for the problems contributing to truancy — or face increased penalties, including a $2,500 fine or up to a year in jail. So far, five of the six families are complying, according to district attorney spokeswoman Erica Terry Derryck.

Over the past four years, 94 percent of the city’s homicide victims under 25 were high school dropouts, according to Harris, who launched a $20,000 anti-truancy ad campaign Monday.

In addition, when students don’t attend school, the district loses money. District officials estimate it has lost $10 million in state attendance revenue because of truancy.

Other cities across the nation have daytime curfews in place to curb truancy. Students in San Mateo County who are truant multiple times can be fined up to $100 and lose driving privileges under the county’s curfew ordinance.

Mirkarimi said Harris’ prosecution efforts and the school district’s intervention programs aren’t enough without a citywide strategy and system of accountability.

Not everyone agrees that truants need more police intervention.

“Truancy should not be thought of as a criminal- or juvenile-justice issue,” said N’Tanya Lee, executive director of Coleman Advocates for Youth. “Our schools lack support. They’re stretched, and kids are falling through the cracks.”

Truancy rates 2006-07

Defined as students with three or more unexcused absences, San Francisco’s truancy rates are among the highest in the Bay Area

Oakland: 23,562 (49.76%)
Marin County: 4,284 (15.02%)
San Jose: 6,501 (21.05%)
San Francisco Unified School District: 15,149 (27.47%)
San Mateo County: 18,802 (21.42%)

Source: California Department of Education

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

September 15, 2008 at 11:14 PM