The Kern High School District has seen improvements in student expulsion and suspension rates the past few years, but that's not to say its work is done.
District officials held their fifth community forum focused on student behavior and school climate Tuesday night at West High School, where they discussed trends seen in student discipline and other ways KHSD can continue to improve.
The district is required to hold two community forums each school year as part of a $670,000 lawsuit settlement against the district. The lawsuit, filed in 2015 by 20 plaintiffs, alleged that the district expelled and suspended African American and Latino students at a disproportionate rate compared to other students.
KHSD Superintendent Bryon Schaefer began Tuesday's forum by noting staff, administrators and board members have dedicated their time to the different programs that focus on improving student behavior without having to resort only to suspensions and expulsions.
"It is said it takes a village to raise a child, and that is so true," he said. "It takes parents, family members, friends, mentors, teachers and school staff members working together in positive partnership to provide the best possible outcomes for these deserving, bright, wonderful students whom we all love and want the very best for."
Data from the district shows suspension rates have dropped from 8.8 percent in 2017-2018 to an estimated 8.55 percent for 2018-2019. Suspension rates for African American students dropped from 19 percent in 2017-2018 to 18.15 percent last year, while students who marked other as their race saw an increase from 4.2 percent in 2017-2018 to 5.22 percent last year.
Jon Eyler, Collaborative Learning Solutions founder, pointed to an area of interest with suspensions and how the district was addressing raising concerns. In 2017-2018, drug-related suspensions counted toward 28 percent of all district suspensions, double the state's 14 percent.
As a result, the district has tried to expand partnerships with community agencies, as well as hire drug specialists. There are currently four drug specialists with plans to hire an additional eight.
"The district is being very responsive to looking at data and responding to put supports around kids," Eyler said.
The total number of expulsions decreased from 29 in 2017-2018 to 20 last year. Out of the 20, seven were African American students, 11 were Hispanic, one was white and one was other.
To reduce the number of disciplinary action, the district has tried to focus more on restorative practices that allow for conversations and that find ways to address student behavior problems. Some of those methods include on-campus intervention, social emotional learning, mindfulness, Multi-Tiered System of Supports and Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports.
Also discussed at the meeting were results from the school climate survey that students took last year, in which they answered questions relating to how they feel when they are at school.
Data from last school year remained fairly consistent with 2017-2018 findings, and many categories even showed slight improvement.
According to the survey 16 percent of African American students and 14 percent of other students said they felt isolated/harassed at school in 2018-2019. This is a drop from 20 percent and 18 percent, respectively, in 2017-2018.
Numbers also dropped for all races in 2018-2019 when asked if they felt unsafe at school — from 20 percent to 18 percent for African American students, 16 percent to 14 percent for Hispanic students, 20 percent to 15 percent for white students and 21 percent to 16 percent for other students.
The next community forum is Jan. 30, 2019.