county boards
County Perspective
Two California counties pilot new approach to student discipline
Multi-Tiered Systems of Support provide interventions and support that consider students’ social-emotional needs and background
Mutli-tiered Systems of Support

The Butte and Orange counties offices of education have received a $15-million state grant to expand training for Multi-tiered Systems of Support — a series of gradual behavioral interventions based on an individual student’s academic, behavioral and social-emotional needs. Collaborating with UCLA’s Center for the Transformation of Schools, the two counties will create resources and curriculum and then train teachers and administrators statewide

Under the pilot program, the initiative will develop strategies to promote a positive school environment through improved student–teacher relationships, increased engagement with students and alternative discipline practices. These practices can include restorative justice, conflict resolution, anti-bullying campaigns and other techniques.

The effort comes as overall out-of-school suspensions have fallen by nearly half in California in recent years, although not for all student groups including students with disabilities, foster youth and students of color. According to the Center for the Transformation of Schools, “about 9.8 percent of all African American students, 7.4 percent of Native American students and 3.7 percent of Latino [students] were suspended from school during the 2016–17 school year.” Meanwhile, California Department of Education data shows that the suspension rates for white students was 3.2 percent.

“Disparities in suspension rates among student groups are disturbing and needed to be addressed,” Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of public instruction, said of these figures in November 2017.

To help change this imbalance, Multi-tiered Systems of Support center on students’ social-emotional needs and diverse backgrounds rather the traditional ‘one-size-fits-all’ zero tolerance approach to discipline. Through this approach, the pilot program also aims to boost achievement for groups that have fallen behind academically.

“This initiative is important for connecting the goal of reducing school suspensions to the effort of improving academic achievement,” said Pedro Noguera, founder of the Center for the Transformation of Schools. “It is important for schools to see the connection between discipline and student learning, and to understand that all efforts to improve school discipline must be based on efforts to deepen academic engagement.”

In April 2016, Orange County received $10 million from the CDE to act as the lead agency for supporting school districts with Multi-tiered Systems of Support. Last year, the state budget also included a $20 million investment in this disciplinary approach, including funds for training and supporting a framework for tracking progress, data assessment and making improvements over time.

In Butte County, CSBA President and Butte COE trustee Mike Walsh cited the long-term benefits of individualized support. Butte County has the highest number of children with adverse and traumatic experiences in the state, he noted, adding, “One of the biggest challenges is how to work with these students without suspension and instead supporting them and keeping them in school so it becomes a place safe from trauma. MTSS is a way to be proactive about managing behavior and supporting students with stress in ways that benefit them well into adulthood. The pilot program is a wonderful first step.”