How to Improve School Attendance

A Practical Guide for Schools and School Districts
A Project of the Los Angeles County Education Coordinating Council

Module 2: Student Discipline and Positive Behavioral Support — 6

The Story of Garfield High — 2

How was this tremendous shift accomplished? First of all, expectations are consistently and clearly communicated to the entire school community. Assemblies of small learning communities routinely cover rules, dress codes, and policies. School police officers present laws about sexual harassment, weapons, and drugs. Parents attend numerous trainings.

In addition, a number of services are offered on-campus, so students don't have to leave school to get help. Local nonprofits provide drug testing, drug counseling, and meetings with troubled students. A physician works with youth on medical wellness and health issues, including treatment for sexually transmitted diseases. A full-service clinic offers vaccinations and tuberculosis testing, pregnancy and mental health services, and treatment for all staff.

Incidents still occur, of course, but in the case of a verbal or physical altercation between two teens, for instance, suspension is far from the automatic response. Staff trained in conflict resolution meet with the adversaries separately and hear both sides of the problem (generally a girlfriend/boyfriend situation or a dispute on social media). Then the teens come together to hash out the issue with staff, and usually decide the fight was inconsequential. Beyond that, the dean of students looks at every disciplinary referral in terms of the students' grades and attendance, knowing that young people don't suddenly start acting up for no reason.

Part of keeping suspensions at zero is being consistent and documenting everything happening with students. At Garfield, any adult can make a referral to the Coordination of Services Team for a student having problems, behavioral or otherwise. The referral form is extensive, ensuring that students get all the interventions and services they need. Weekly team meetings follow up on all cases, keeping lines of communication open. Flexibility is key; every adult on campus knows that if they can't help a student, they can take them to someone who can.

Any punishment is also looked at as an educational opportunity. During detention for using a racial slur, for instance, a teacher will facilitate a discussion about why such slurs are harmful and not acceptable at school. Students who are bullying others attend sessions to learn what bullying looks like and why is it isn't tolerated.

One student who was behind in his work acted out in class and was rude to a teacher. He had his lunchtime privileges revoked; instead of socializing with his friends, he had to eat in the dean's office and catch up on his schoolwork. After a day of this, he asked to be suspended. But being suspended would have meant taking a break from school and from dealing with his issues there. Why would that be assigned as a punishment?

Suspensions and expulsions don't deter bad behavior, in any case. Garfield's PBIS program, however, does—primarily because most students simply don't want to get in trouble with all the adults involved in their school lives: the principal, the dean of students, pupil services workers, counselors, other staff, and of course their parents. Acting up generally isn't worth it. As a school where all students qualify for the Federal free and reduced-price lunch program, Garfield uses Title I money to hire the additional support staff necessary to address its students' academic and behavioral needs, including a psychiatric social worker, a pupil services and attendance counselor, and additional academic counselors. Administrators also reach out to local community resources and have a very good relationship with both the Los Angeles Unified School Police and the nearby Sheriff's station, which helps patrol the area surrounding the campus at the beginning and end of the school day to make sure students are arriving and leaving safely.

Local public television station KCET featured Garfield on its SoCal Connected program in a segment called "No More Suspensions at School Famous for Stand and Deliver."

Go to the next page of Module 2: Behavior