Redwood adopts new approach to student suspensions

Macrae Sharp

First, you break the rules, specifically one of 23 rules that are listed as “grounds for suspension” in the Redwood Parent Student Handbook. Maybe you aren’t thinking about the consequences, but the administration catches you red-handed. You are suspended and told to arrive at Mr. Sondheim’s office the following morning for your “in house” suspension.

The “in house” suspension has become more frequently given to students as the administration is trying to keep students out of the classroom learning time for the minimum time necessary during a suspension period, according to Assistant Principal Katy Foster.

This type of suspension usually lasts one day rather than three, and requires students to stay on campus under adult supervision instead being at home.

“There’s a nationwide movement to understand that suspending kids out of school is not as productive. I think we’re headed that direction (restorative practices) as a country and certainly as a district,” Foster said.

Eleven students were suspended from Redwood during the last school year, according to the California Department of Education. With a student body of 1,761, Redwood had an overall suspension rate of 0.6 percent.

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Compared to data from the 2013-2014 and 2012-2013 school years, these numbers are significantly lower. In the 2013-2014 school year, 2 percent of students were suspended, with 34 total suspensions, and in the previous year (2012-2013), 3.5 percent of students were suspended with 58 total suspensions.

Foster speculates that this decrease could be due to the decrease of suspensions for students who “disrupted school activities or willfully defied the valid authority of supervisors,” often referred to as a “K suspension” because of its description in California Education Code. Foster attributes the decrease in “K suspensions” to an administrative push to provide counseling rather than consequences to students. The administration most often deals with suspensions regarding unlawful possession and the use and sale of alcoholic beverages or other intoxicants, according to Foster, which is known as a “C suspension” in California Education Code.

Foster also attributed the decrease in suspensions during the past three years to the district’s influence in keeping more students in class during learning hours.

“If [the suspension] is in-house, [the students] are still away from the rest of the school, but their teachers can come in and work with them or can bring them work, and so we can support them better that way to stay connected to school. That’s why we made that change, and I think it has worked really well,” Foster said.

Senior Gabe Di Donato said that when he was suspended last month, there were no student services offered to him during his time serving his in-house suspension.

“It was an in-school suspension. If I was at home, I could be messing around or playing video games. So [I] came in and I sat there all day,” Di Donato said.

Di Donato said he was suspended in February under suspicion of being under the influence of alcohol.

According to the letter he received from the district, his suspension was classified as a “C suspension.”

“I was put in a room and told to be quiet. They told me to put my headphones away when  I  took them out.   It was of no benefit for me to be at school that day,” Di Donato said.

He also said that he believes serving his suspension on campus instead of at home was intended to increase his discomfort and increase the severity of the consequence. Di Donato doesn’t think the administration deals fairly with all suspensions.

“I don’t understand why sometimes [the administration] dishes out the maximum consequence, and in other situations they say no, no consequences necessary. I think [the administration’s] judgement when it comes to handing out consequences is very skewed,” Di Donato said.

Redwood also has a contract with a local organization called Dynamic Solutions for Youth, which helps students evaluate their situation, see alternatives and other perspectives, and then re-evaluate their choices and decisions, according to their website.

Foster said that Dynamic Solutions for Youth President Keith Jackson has previously spoken with Redwood students who have been suspended about their choices. The program aims to provide a “constructive environment to help the student understand the seriousness of the suspension and the school’s point of view,” according to their website.

Foster said that when she arrived at Redwood in 2012, defying school authority in any particular way was considered an automatic suspension. Now, she said, the administration has tried to create a learning environment for small instances of defiance, rather than automatic suspension.