Data presented Tuesday at the Kern High School District’s fifth community forum showed overall disciplinary trends in the 2018-19 school year have decreased in many areas; however a high number of students are still exiting general education.
At the community forum, which is meant to address student behavior and school climate, KHSD officials shared data that showed suspension rates dropped by 0.3 percent, expulsion rates dropped by 31 percent, and involuntary transfers dropped by 8 percent. However, one category saw a spike. The number of voluntary transfers increased by 7.5 percent due to the waiver of rights increased, KHSD officials say.
“There’s been an increase of voluntary transfers based on the waiver agreement due to an increase in serious violations, which include threats, battery, sexual battery, fights, weapons violations, harassment violation and controlled substance violations,” said Brenda Lewis, associate superintendent of instruction.
In 2018-19, 648 students were voluntarily transferred, which is up from 603 last year and 436 the year before. Black students made up 18.5 percent of those transfers, making them three times more likely to leave the district than other students.
Brian Mendiburu, director of student behavior and supports, said the spike in voluntary transfers were due largely to an increase in students with weapons violations and controlled substances on campus. He said of those 648 voluntary transfers, 78 involved weapon violations and 175 involved controlled substances — two areas that have seen at least a 35 percent increase since last school year. Also, 313 other incidents involved violent offenses and 63 involved harassment and bullying, according to Mendiburu.
Education advocacy groups say voluntary transfers have become a new way of pushing students — disproportionately black — out of the district, as expulsions have nosedived from their peak of 2,200 in 2009.
Expulsion, suspension and transfer rates were just part of the forum, which is a requirement listed in a settlement agreement reached in 2017 after KHSD acknowledged it disproportionately suspended and expelled African American and Latino students.
The number of suspensions, expulsions and involuntary transfers have dropped, according to the data. In the 2018-19 school year, there were 20 expulsions in the entire district — with the majority being African American and Latino students. The district’s suspension rate for the 201-19 school year slightly dropped to 8.55 percent, with 18.15 percent of those suspensions for African American students.
African American students face higher rates of suspension on certain campus, particularly at continuation schools, according to the California Department of Education. At Tierra Del Sol Continuation High, 40.4 percent of black students were suspended, compared to 16.7 percent of white students on the same campus in 2017-18. At North High, 28.2 percent of all black students were suspended at least once in 2017-18, which is down from 37.3 percent the previous year.
Dr. Jon Eyler, the CEO of Collaborative Learning Solutions who has served as a consultant for the district for the past five years, said an increasing number of suspensions involve drugs.
In the 2017-18 school year, 28 percent of all suspensions for the District were due to drug-related issues.
Kern is an outlier. Fourteen percent of suspensions in California are drug-related. In fact, 3 percent of all drug-related suspensions in the state in 2017-18 were at KHSD, when the district only makes up 2 percent of the high-school-aged population.
To address this issues, KHSD currently has four substance abuse specialists and is also working to partner with Kern County Behavioral Health to address substance abuse, Eyler said.
Eyler pointed out a decrease in defiance-related suspensions. In 2015-6, there were 1,581 suspensions due to defiance. In 2017-18, there were 475 suspensions related to defiance.
“(Kern High) has gone above and beyond the requirements to be able serve kids,” Eyler said. “By no means am I saying the district is perfect, but I think they are starting to have structures in place so that they can be even more intentional, and I’m excited about that.”
Eyler said KHSD has gone far beyond the “bare minimum” laid out in the agreement in Sanders v. Kern High School District. He said he is particularly proud of the 100 staff hired since 2013 that act as “boots on the ground,” including 24 social workers, 24 interventionists who work in small groups and 18 community specialists who work in parents and family centers.
Eyler said the next phase is to empower students and parents through advocacy groups and focus groups. KHSD, for example, has created an African-American parent advisory council this year. Eyler said he hopes the council can help address problems of disproportionality regarding discipline.
At five schools — East, West, Mira Monte, Foothill and South high schools — there is an elective class called PLUS (Peer Leaders Uniting Students), which addresses behavioral issues. There are also coaches working with student teams outside of those classes that are training students to teach students problem solving.
“There are a lot technical pieces that have been put in place,” Eyler said. “There are teams in place, there are people in place, there are structures in place, there is a behavior matrix in place.”
He continued: “Now it’s about going deeper with belief systems and work on some of the more challenging pieces.”
The next community forum is Jan. 30, 2020.
Kern Sol News is a youth-led journalism organization in Kern County. In their stories, reporters shine light on health and racial disparities in under-served communities across Kern. For more stories by South Kern Sol, head to southkernsol.org.