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Study: California's Native American Students Suspended, Expelled At Higher Rates

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Native American students make up less than 1% of California’s public K-12 schools, but a new study found that they’re more likely to be suspended or expelled at a higher rate than the state average.

Speaker 1: 00:00 Native American students make up less than 1% of California's public K through 12 schools. But a new study released last month found that they're more likely to be suspended or expelled at a higher rate than the state average KPBS education reporter Joe Hong has been following this story and joins us with more. Joe, welcome first, who did this study and what prompted the research?

Speaker 2: 00:23 So, uh, this report was a collaboration between education researchers at San Diego state university and a group called the Sacramento native American higher education collaborative. It's a, it's a team of education researchers, native American researchers who study education across the state.

Speaker 1: 00:41 So what did the results of this study done by San Diego state university researchers and native American scholars show?

Speaker 2: 00:48 So the most striking number, uh, that really stuck with me is that native American boys are four times more likely to be expelled than the state average and they're more than two and a half times more likely to be suspended than the state average.

Speaker 1: 01:02 Does the report say anything about schools in San Diego County?

Speaker 2: 01:06 Yeah. So the, the, the written report doesn't explicitly mention any local San Diego schools, but as part of the report, uh, the researchers published a database and you can sort of go in there and look up your local district. And, um, the, the database sort of identifies a districts as um, either high concern, moderate concern or acceptable depending on sort of the disparity between suspension rates between the state average and their native American population.

Speaker 1: 01:37 So how do these suspensions impact the students? So

Speaker 2: 01:42 when, uh, when students are, are suspended or routinely suspended it, it creates an atmosphere that is not welcoming or conducive to learning and it creates an environment that students associate with, with punishment and, um, and ultimately it suspensions and expulsions they take students out of the classroom. Which research will researchers will say is the most problematic aspect of this type of school discipline. A student should be kept in the classroom. Um, uh, teachers should be building relationships, trying to prevent, uh, negative behaviors that lead to these forms of this.

Speaker 1: 02:19 You spoke with Molly Springer who is a cofounder of the Sacramento native American higher education collaborative and coauthor of this report. She points to a tumultuous history of forced assimilation as part of the reason behind these disparities. Can you talk to me a bit about that? Yeah, that was a

Speaker 2: 02:36 interesting conversation I had with, with Molly. Um, she sort of contextualize it for this issue for me and this broader history where in the late 18 hundreds, uh, the government started these boarding schools for native American students. Um, and sort of the mission statement was to quote unquote civilize these students and um, she sort of sees this very like, punitive approach to school discipline as a continuation of that history where students need to be, need to be disciplined, um, rather than, you know, truly educated.

Speaker 1: 03:11 You spoke with SDSU education professor Luke wood. What did he say about these disparities?

Speaker 2: 03:17 So, uh, Luke for Luke, it really comes down to the cultural disconnect between teachers and students. And, uh, I have a clip here of him saying more about that

Speaker 3: 03:27 most educators are woefully unprepared under prepared to engage and teach native American students because they don't understand their culture, their live social, cultural experiences. And so there's a lot of misunderstanding that takes place. So I think it's also important to note then that we're not saying that educators are bad or that they, um, have malintent we're really saying is that there's a lack of understanding and that creates a pattern that routinely suspends and expels native American students.

Speaker 1: 03:57 So without teachers who are culturally competent, the learning experience can really become hostile for some students. You also spoke with Ron Macau and superintendent of the Valley center, Palma unified school district. What did he say about the disparity there that was pointed out in some of this report and how did the district say they were addressing the issue?

Speaker 2: 04:18 Right. So Ron was very straightforward, you know, th this is a disparity that he, he recognized in his, this straight and um, [inaudible] but it in a way he said he, his district is lucky because is that the district [inaudible] exists in, um, adjacent to five native American reservation. So they sort of have the community resources to build these partnerships with local tribes. And the goal is to do more outreach to do more teacher trainings through these, um, with these tribes. Um, do more parent engagement. And this is something they've actually just started this year. Uh, so this is something that I'll definitely

Speaker 1: 04:58 falling. And do these efforts by the school district really get to the root of what the authors of this report feel causes the disparity you think?

Speaker 2: 05:05 I think so far in, in theory they do in the implementation. Um, I guess we'll, we'll have to see because if it's still early, but in theory a, you know, the researchers like Luke wood and Molly Springer, they want more parent engagement. They want more teacher training. Um, so in theory, what they're doing at Valley center, PAMA, I'm sure

Speaker 1: 05:28 I've been speaking with KPBS education reporter Joe Hong. Joe, thank you so much for joining us. Thank you.

Speaker 4: 05:38 [inaudible].

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.