The Effectiveness of Suspending Suspensions

The “Building Healthy Communities” campaign was first launched by The California Endowment in 2010. The purpose of the campaign was to “change the narrative”and transform 14 distressed communities in California into places where all people thrive. The California Endowment pledged $1 billion to the campaign and planned for it to run 10 years, ending around 2020. “One extraordinary success was the campaign to reform school discipline policies that were throwing many thousands of kids out of school and severely jeopardizing their future prospects and, as result, their long-term health,” said Suzanne Bohan in her book, Twenty Years of Life: Why the Poor Die Earlier and How to Challenge Inequity. “It also put them into the “school-to-prison” pipeline, as youth not in school are more likely to end up entangled in the criminal justice system, which proves hard to escape.”

The introduction of the campaign helped to pass 11 new state laws and decreased student suspensions in California schools by almost 400,000 annually. One of the Endowment’s allies in the campaign, “Fight Crime: Invest in Kids”, helped them change school rules to reduce crime and helping prevent students from ending up in the juvenile justice system. Their plan to do so was to reduce high school dropout rates as the data often goes hand-in-hand. With this plan in place, they decided to hold a virtual rally so that youth from all over could join in and witness it. It ended up being a huge success with young people realizing that they were not alone and there were people out there looking out for them.

After a couple of years, the Endowment pushed for a statewide ban suspensions related to willful defiance, defined as “disrupting school activities or otherwise willfully defying the valid authority of school staff.” This had led to things such as suspending students for not listening or not being prepared, clearly not things that require that severe of a punishment. In 2014, Governor Brown passed a bill restricting willful defiance discipline. While not preventing it completely, it was still a huge change and was estimated to keep approximately 10,000 students in school each year.

For more information on the Building Healthy Communities campaign, visit the California Endowment website at www.calendow.org