American Schools Rethink Its Discipline Policy

21 May, 2014


From VOA Learning English, this is the Education Report.

Growing up can be hard in poor neighborhoods where crime is common. That is the situation Marco Antonio Aguilar faced when he started at Garfield High School in Los Angeles, California. The boy hated school. He says he had the wrong friends, often missed classes and even got into fights.

The school suspended him, barring him from attending classes. He almost was sent to a school for problem students. But Marco Antonio changed his behavior. He says a talk with his mother helped him change. And he praises his teachers.

"With the help of the teachers that I receiving, knowing that they did care about me, the school did really help me," Aguilar recalls.

Other students at Garfield High will never be suspended as Marco Antonio was. The Punishment of suspension has been suspended. Jose Huerta, the Garfield High Principal took the action when he first arrived at Garfield more than four years ago.

"You don't have to suspend kids. It doesn't get you anywhere. It's very simple, connect with students," Huerta said.

When Mr. Huerta came to Garfield, more than half the students were leaving school without finishing their studies. And at the same time, Garfield was suspending nearly 700 students yearly.

He said most of the suspensions were for behavioral problems known as "willful defiance." He said that could include something as minor as chewing gum in class.

Under Mr. Huerta's leadership, students involved in willful defiance first talk to a teacher, then a parent may get involved. finally, group support can be provided if needed. Today, Garfield graduates 85 percent of its students.

"The reason we don't see vandalism or anything is because now there's a connection with our students. I love them. Every time we have an assembly: 'remember guys I love you and we love you" and they all respond with an applause because they don't always get that," Huerta said.

In last year, the Los Angeles Unified School District changed its punishment policy, the whole district banned suspension to punish students for willful defiance.

Superintendent John Deasy came to Los Angeles Unified in 2011. He says he started working on the suspension policy problem then. He said there were far too many suspensions, and he said there were far too many suspensions of minority students.

Dan Losen is with The Civil Rights Project at the University of California at Los Angeles. Mr. Losen said schools that suspend many students do not have better records or rates of graduation. The U.S. Departments of Justice and Education recently called for the change as well.

And that's the VOA Learning English Education Report. I'm Marsha James.