Claudia Gomez is a petite Latina with big earrings and even bigger dreams for the future. But her future wasn’t always this bright.
Despite being the valedictorian of her eighth grade class, Claudia was expelled from her high school as a freshman because of a fight with another student. She attended several other schools across town where she was suspended numerous times for being tardy and engaging in verbal fights with other students who teased her. Eventually she fell behind in her work and dropped out.
But none of these punitive disciplinary measures could fix her broken heart.
At age 12, her older sister was shot and killed, and her other sister was shot as well in the same incident. “All the time I was struggling with anger management and transportation issues, no one ever asked me what they could do to help,” she remembered.
Now Claudia is on track to finish high school and she’s an organizer with Youth Justice Coalition, telling her story to anybody who will listen and help change the system that didn’t hear the hurt behind her anger. Watch a video of Claudia telling her story.
Claudia’s story highlights one important aspect of our education system that is failing our kids: excessive school discipline. For too long, politicians have peddled a simplistic, “tough love” approach to school discipline that emphasizes suspensions and expulsions. The numbers are alarming. In California alone, over 400,000 students were suspended in 2009-2010. That equates to tens of millions of hours of lost classroom time for our nation’s youth.
But the infractions that led to these punitive disciplinary actions are not what most people expect. A recent national study found that over 43% of disciplinary exclusions were for “insubordination” violations (i.e., talking back, “willful defiance,” etc.) and less than 1% was for possession or use of firearms.
As you can imagine, the educational consequences for these students are enormous. Statistics show that students who are suspended at least once are three times more likely to drop out.
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