Dramatic drop in KHSD expulsions raises skepticism

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) Student expulsions in the Kern High School District dropped dramatically last school year to about 300.

"The district has taken a very proactive stance," said Michael Zulfa, assistant superintendent of instruction for KHSD.

The district has come under fire from legal and community groups for having one of the highest number of expulsions in the entire state for years.

Not only does KHSD expel more students, but critics say it expels a disproportionate number are minority students.

According to district figures, there were 2,050 expulsions in school year 2010-11. That number dropped to 1,096 in 2011-12 and to 300 last year.

That's a drop of nearly 86 percent. What caused the expulsions to drop?

"We looked at what other school districts within the state are doing, what's working out? What are the exemplary practices that we can bring in?" said Zulfa.

The district added professional development and training with staff provided by the state and the Kern County Superintendent of Schools Office.

And, said Zulfa, the district had a two-prong approach to reducing the number of students being expelled. It implemented programs such as "Link Crew," which matches junior and senior students as mentors with freshmen students as they enter school.

And, the Safe School Ambassador program allows for more student interaction with other students, in the hope that students report potential problems to staff.

"Increasing communication and having better relationships, that's two ways where we've really tried to reach out so that we have fewer incidents of misbehavior," said Zulfa.

But others are not convinced. The district could simply be categorizing expulsions as something else, said Kamilah Holmes, staff attorney with the Youth Law Program run by Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance, which advocates for student rights.

Holmes suspected that rather than expelling students, the district is using another method called an involuntary transfer to get problem students excluded out of class.

"Involuntary transfer often have the same results," said Holmes. "So if you expel a kid or involuntary transfer a kid, usually they'll end up at the continuation school or community school, so basically the same effect."

GBLA and other groups, such as the Dolores Huerta Foundation, have taken KHSD to task for expelling too many students, claiming it results in students being denied an education and at greater risk of dropping out of school.

Both groups are currently holding community meetings telling parents that if a school tries to expel a student, parents should not sign any documents and to contact them first.