05/22/2012 02:55 pm ET Updated Jul 22, 2012

Community Service To Wipe Away School Suspensions

By: Robyn Gee

Recent data from the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights shows that black and Latino students are much more likely to get suspended from school than their white peers -- especially for subjective minor offenses, like disrupting classroom activities. California State Assemblymember Sandre Swanson is spearheading legislation that might help curb those numbers by requiring schools to offer a community service alternative to serving suspensions for minor infractions.

The goal? Keep those offenses off students' permanent records.

Swanson is the chair of the Select Committee on Men and Boys of Color. Youth Radio spoke with him about the bill that goes to the Appropriations committee on Friday.

The bill, AB 2300, was inspired by two high school students who entered the annual “There Oughta Be A Law” contest. According to Assemblymember Swanson, the students had observed disproportionate numbers of students of color being suspended for simply talking back to a teacher or asking too many questions. These stories were echoed at hearings in Los Angeles, Oakland and Sacramento where hundreds of students showed up to share their experiences, according to Swanson.

The larger worry is how these disciplinary records follow young people through school and beyond, which is why a clean record is important to Swanson. “We’re also finding that young men of color are dropping out of school at higher rates, they find themselves involved with the juvenile justice system more often, leading to more incarceration, and disproportionate number of inmates at our state prison,” said Swanson. “These [school discipline] infractions are shaping the future of young people. We needed to address that... We came up with a way for minor infractions for students to be expunged from their record,” said Swanson.

How it works

If a student completes five hours of community service, minor infractions stay off their permanent discipline record. The option of community service does not apply to serious offenses like bringing a weapon to school, said Swanson, and ultimately, school districts will have to help determine what specific infractions can be erased. But the idea is to prevent students from being burdened throughout the rest of their academic career.

“When they go to another institution, people look at them and put them on trigger notice, and that's not good. They say, 'You’ve been a problem student,'” he said. “Many times these incidents happen when the students are really young, and they shouldn’t really shape their future or career.

He also hopes that students will benefit from putting the community service on their resumes, or even get connected with internships, summer jobs, or scholarship organizations through their work. The bill would also prohibit schools from giving suspension information to post secondary institutions.

The bill does not address the racial disparities in suspensions and expulsions -- and it's questionable whether the problem-student stigma will disappear if minority students are constantly on school clean-up duty. But Swanson said it starts here.

“Saying, 'You’re just a problem for this class, you’re outta here.' We have to have a little more patience than that. We can’t just throw young people’s lives away because we don’t have the patience to deal with them... This is not going to be the fix-all, but it should be part of the wholistic approach... making sure we’re not expelling children as a first step.”

Originally published on, the premier source for youth generated news throughout the globe.

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