Concerns raised over disproportionate discipline data and effectiveness of alternative measures

PASO ROBLES — With the most recent school year wrapped up, trustees received a presentation on disciplinary actions taken for misbehaving students during the Tuesday, July 9, Paso Robles Joint Unified School District (PRJUSD) meeting.

Staff presented trustees with discipline data going back to the 2018-19 school year. While the data shows there has beena decrease in suspensions for students — 489 in 2018-19 and 217 in 2023-24 — part of that is due to the state’s requirement for schools to use “other means of correction” rather than using suspension or expulsion for discipliningstudents.

And despite the decrease in suspensions, staff have noticed an increase in “behaviors” since the COVID pandemic. Data collected by staff showed that Hispanic students and students with disabilities had a higher rate than average for suspension.

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The reasoning for suspensions is divided into different codes or “categories,” with Attempted or Threatened Physical Injury being the highest reason at 140 students being suspended, followed by Possession, Use, Sale, or Furnishing a Controlled Substance, Alcohol, Intoxicant with 88 students in the most recent school year.

However, following the presentation, the trustees felt there was a lot of missing information.

“When I read through the presentation, it looks to me like we’ve reduced suspensions, but the number of disciplinary incidents has gone up, which indicates to me we are encouraging bad behavior,” said Trustee Kenney Enney.

Because not all of the suspendable offenses were available in the presentation, Trustee Jim Cogan felt the data given was disproportionate towards the Hispanic students. 

“I don’t want there to be this perception out there that our Latino students, which make up somewhere in the neighborhood of 55 percent of our student population are being suspended or drugs or violent offenses because that’s not what the full numbers say and if that’s not why they are being suspended I would like to know why,” Cogan said.

In response, Director of Student Services Thomas Harrington said, “There are a variety of infractions, because those arethe most prevalent is aggression and drugs and so I wanted to make sure I could present that information to you.”

Other trustees echoed the concerns from Cogan and Enney regarding missing the full picture of data.

“Because there are so many missing components within this, any question we ask, we are missing pieces of it, so we are not getting the whole picture,” said Trustee Nathan Williams.

Trustees also questioned what the suspension alternatives are.

“There is quite a large menu of other means that the sites are using as opposed to suspending students,” explained Harrington.

Enney noted that he has spoken to some teachers who have concerns over lack of disipline in the classrooms and defiance in the students.

“I don’t know if sitting in a group or having structured recess is going to help when they are in high school … I know that this isn’t something that is necessarily the district’s fault. It’s a state issue,” said Enney.

Discipline was a discussion item only, so no further actions were taken by the board. However, at the end of the meeting Nathan Williams requested the discipline presentation to come back to trustees at a meeting in August with more information.

The next Paso Robles Joint Unified School District meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 6, at 6:30 p.m.