Night and Day

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All schools have discipline policies to keep students and teachers safe. But sometimes schools get so focused on being tough they lose sight of being fair.

My son started high school where administrators clearly weren't prepared for minority and lower-income students. Instead of getting to know the kids, they tried to corral them. Students who swore in class got suspended for a day. Talking back, two days. Every infraction had a stiff automatic consequence.

"Bad" kids couldn't be helped, only controlled. It was the easy way out.

Unfortunately, my son was making bad choices with marijuana.

In the hallways, he got his pockets checked by police. They even smelled his fingertips. He started to act out. He got suspended. I was frustrated. I thought: Mentor him, don't marginalize him.


He was not alone, though. On average, California's 10 largest school districts' suspension and expulsion rates are well above the national average and soaring, much of that falling on minority students.

In two Sacramento area districts, black students are three times more likely to get suspended than whites.

Finally we enrolled my son at New Technology High. It was night and day. The principal knew every student. They called parents every week. Once a week the kids had an advisory session to talk about what's on their minds.

We figured out my son has dyslexia. Since then, he has friendships with kids who make good choices, has graduated and is on his way to college.

The California Education Code could help schools nurture kids and create safe environments. The administrators at my son's old school applied cookie cutter punishments for offenses defined only by them.

We need common-sense rules at the state level to guide schools in better directions. Legislators have introduced bills to bring much-needed reforms and these reforms should be approved now.

There's a mentality that you can't salvage some kids. But all kids can be saved. I've seen it.

With a Perspective, I'm Michelle Harvey.