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School board debates suspension policy

Teacher discretion on make-up work for suspended students was a much-discussed topic at the Santa Clara Unified School District’s last board meeting.

The agenda item put recommendations from California School Board Association before the board for approval Thursday.

Board member Michelle Ryan said the proposed changes to the district’s suspension policy regarding due process is aimed to “separate disciplinary consequences from academic consequences.”

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The wording in the district’s suspension policy stated that “[s]tudents who miss school work because of suspensions shall be given the opportunity to make up missed work. Teachers shall assign such makeup work as necessary to ensure academic progress, not as a punitive measure.”

Board member Noelani Sallings said the new policy, which eliminates the requirement that teachers provide make-up work to suspended students, is “giving teachers the freedom to say ‘yes'” to helping students.

“If a student is suspended, most, if not all, of teachers are going to work with these students,” she said. “We have to trust that staff is going to do the best for our students.”

Student board member Tamara Pantic disagreed with Sallings, saying that “most, if not all” is not good enough. The district should focus on protecting students’ rights and not “trusting blindly” that teachers will be accommodating.

“We are all human,” Pantic said. “As humans, we have bias. There are some students [teachers] hold in higher esteem than others.”

Fellow student board member Kyle Crotty echoed Pantic’s concern, saying that not requiring teachers to provide make-up work is “opening the door to inequity.”

However, Superintendent Stanley Rose said the language in the policy is a matter of law, saying the district is required to handle the matter in this way.

Mike Hickey, president of  teachers’ union United Teachers of Santa Clara, opposed requiring teachers to provide materials to suspended students. He said that if the district wants those students to have the material, it should provide them instead of putting all of the burden on the teacher.

“That is not fair,” Hickey said. “Sending a packet home is not teaching. You devalue what we do in the classroom.”

Board member Andrew Ratermann said he would favor additional pay for teachers required to provide supplemental material to suspended students.

Ryan said suspended students are never going to be able to recapture the experience of being in the classroom, and Board President Albert Gonzalez went so far as to say “giving them the work for [missed] days is doing them a disservice.”

In the end, in a 4-3 vote, the board voted to eliminate the language requiring teachers provide make-up work to suspended students and adopt the California School Board Association’s recommendations. Board members Christopher Stampolis, Jim Canova and Ryan opposed the measure

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