California’s Black students suspended at far higher rates than their peers
Suspension rate for Black students is more than 2.5 times higher than state average
A student and their parent in a classroom
While the average statewide suspension rate during the 2018–19 academic year was 3.5 percent in public schools, the average rate for African American students was 9.1 percent — higher than any other racial group, according to a recently published report by the Black Minds Matter Coalition.

“This rate is 2.6 times higher than the statewide average and should serve as a clarion call to educators and policymakers alike,” according to “Suspending Our Future: How Inequitable Disciplinary Practices Disenfranchise Black Kids In California’s Public Schools.”

The report (https://bit.ly/3rS9yPd) examines the use of suspensions and other forms of exclusionary discipline and how they affect the education of Black children in California public schools using data from the 2018–19 school year — the most recent numbers available.

The two main categories of suspensions are in-school and out-of-school. Worth noting, according to the report, is that not all suspensions are properly documented. “Ultimately, exclusionary discipline practices inhibit children’s learning, growth, and development by removing them from learning environments and fostering oppositional relationships between school educators and the children and families they serve,” the report states.

Broken down by gender, the average statewide suspension rate for males was 4.8 percent during the 2018–19 school year compared to 11.8 percent for African American males. The average was just 2 percent for females compared to 6.1 percent for African American females. Data on students that identify as non-binary is starting to be collected.

Native American students were the only group who even came close, with an average of 7.5 percent statewide and 10.1 percent and 4.7 percent for males and females, respectively. Asian (1 percent overall), Filipino (1.4 percent overall) and white (3 percent overall) students were suspended at the lowest rates.

By grade, middle schoolers were the most likely to be suspended. The statewide average was 6.7 percent. Comparatively, rates were 19.1 percent for Black males and 12.5 percent for Black females.

Black students who are homeless, in the foster care system, low-income or have disabilities were also more likely than the statewide average to be suspended. Statistics on foster youth stand out the most. With an average of 15.1 percent for foster youth of all racial and ethnic groups, Black males in the foster care system had rates of 26.9 percent, while Black females had a rate of 16.1 percent.

Additionally, the report includes information on countywide suspension patterns. One infographic lays out “urgent concern counties” for Black students in California considering both county suspension totals and suspension rates. Modoc, Amador, Madera and Plumas counties “represent the worst suspension counties for Black males by rate and account and are of urgent concern.”

“The next eight counties are those counties that appear in the top 20 for both total suspensions and suspension rates,” wrote researchers. “The first among these is Sacramento County, which has a suspension rate of 13.8 percent. This is followed by San Bernardino, Contra Costa and San Joaquin counties.”

Recommendations and legislation
The authors made 10 recommendations for policies that can help to directly address disproportionate suspensions at the state and district levels.

Among the recommendations: Require training for all preservice and in-service teachers on bias, inclusive practices and positive behavior interventions; require school principals to consult with a social worker before suspending a foster child; make suspension data publicly available on district and school websites; establish grade-level specific suspension requirements that are age appropriate; eliminate suspensions and expulsions in early learning; and extend ban on willful defiance suspensions for all elementary students.

Assembly Bill 420, passed in 2014, banned out-of-school suspensions for children grades K-3 for willful defiance — often the “default reason to suspend a child,” according to CSBA Legislative Advocate Erika Hoffman.

Signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2019, Senate Bill 419 took things a step further prohibiting out-of-school suspensions for willful defiance in fourth and fifth grades beginning July 1, 2020. Also on July 1, 2020, a five-year trial for grades six through eight began.

“Reports like this are why SB 419 came along,” Hoffman said. “We supported it from the basis that it would hopefully aid in reducing suspensions and provide students with more adults who were trained to help them.”

Numbers represented in the report were prior to the commencement of SB 419 and the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disrupted in-person instruction since March 2020.

With many California schools starting to return to campus, Hoffman is optimistic that more current data will emerge in the next year or two showing improvements and expects an extension on the 2025 sunset for middle schoolers to be proposed at some point.