Native American boys suspended more than other students in Sacramento area, state, report says

Native American boys are suspended at a higher rate than other students in Sacramento-area schools and throughout California, according to a newly released report.

The Sacramento Native American Higher Education Collaborative published the new findings in collaboration with the Community College Equity Assessment Lab at San Diego State University.

They found that the statewide suspension rate for Native American students is 7.2 percent, more than double the statewide suspension average of 3.5 percent.

Native American boys have the highest expulsion rate – 9.6 percent – for any ethnic or gender group, at 4.2 times the state average. That number continues to rise, according to the report. The highest percentage of suspensions for Native American students — both male and female — occurs in middle school.

The top California counties suspending Native American students were Modoc, Mono and Lassen, according to the report.

Several school districts in Sacramento County were labeled as “urgent concern” districts for disproportionately high male suspension rates: Twin Rivers Unified, Sacramento City Unified, Folsom Cordova Unified, Center Joint Unified and San Juan Unified.

The report used self-reported data collected by the school districts.

The Sacramento Native American Higher Education Collaborative is a regionally based workgroup made up of Native American faculty, staff, administrators, community members and students affiliated with local community colleges, universities and the California Tribal College and Wilton Rancheria.

“This report shines a light on a problem our communities have known about for years, yet schools ignore due to Native students representing an ‘insignificant’ population size,” said Dahlton Brown, executive director of education for Wilton Rancheria in Sacramento County. “It is deeply unjust for schools to be complicit in the continued oppression of our youth, and I hope this report starts conversations between Native educators and school systems to address these disparities.”

The report states that many Native American students are suspended due to “willful defiance,” a broad term that can refer to students “standing up for their culture or resisting school systems that fail to respect indigenous identities,” according to a news release.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill in September that effectively banned California schools from suspending disruptive students from kindergarten to eighth grade. Senate Bill 419 bans willful defiance suspensions in grades 4 and 5 permanently, and in grades 6-8 for five years. It goes into effect July 1, 2020. Willful defiance suspensions were already banned for children through third grade under an earlier law.

“As a parent of a middle schooler, I’m alarmed by the report’s findings. It’s important to make sure that Native students are understood, valued and academically supported in the K-12 system,” said Elk Grove Unified School District board member Crystal Martinez-Alire, from the Miwok tribe, who contributed to the report.

In 2017, suspensions in California resulted in more than 760,000 missed days of instruction. Black and Native American students who were suspended missed more days per capita than any other racial or ethnic group, according to a report by the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at UCLA.

Black students lost 48 more days of instruction than their peers, and Native American students lost 28 more days of instruction, the report said.

Related stories from Fresno Bee

Sawsan Morrar covers school accountability and culture for The Sacramento Bee. She grew up in Sacramento and is an alumna of UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She previously freelanced for various publications including The Washington Post, Vice, KQED and Capital Public Radio.