Expulsions rising in East San Jose schools
Piedmont Hills High School is part of the East Side Union High School District in San Jose. Photo by Loan-Anh Pham.

    Expulsions are on the rise in one of San Jose’s largest school districts, another symptom of post-pandemic education.

    The East Side Union High School District had an uptick in expulsions last school year. As schools contend with the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on student behavior, the district is ensuring students who face expulsion have clear paths to reentry, officials said at a recent board meeting.

    The district expelled a total of 21 students in 2021-22, compared to 16 expulsions during 2018-19, the last in-person school year before the pandemic. Of the 21 expulsions, 18 involved the use of force and physical injuries, two involved the possession or sale of firearms and one involved battery of a school employee.

    East Side Union High School District enrolls more than 21,000 students in 19 high schools and adult education programs.

    Students facing expulsion go through a semester or year-long probationary period, where they are usually placed in other schools within the district and work toward reentry to their original campus, said Maryam Adalat, director of student services. The goal is for students to avoid being expelled entirely, as the district works to offer multi-faceted support to students, which includes mental health services as well as staff training on student discipline.

    “We as adults want to have practices in place to support our students upon returning from expulsions,” Adalat said. “We’re not just focusing on their behavior, but their wellness and instruction as well.”

    District data reveals 20 out of the 21 students expelled were socioeconomically disadvantaged. Seven students had learning disabilities.

    Students facing expulsion have pointed to long-term academic struggles as a factor in behavioral issues, Adalat said. Schools are battling pandemic learning loss, which disproportionately impacts low-income students.

    “(The) year and a half that we were in distance learning has impacted the social skills development of kids and the ability to access instruction,” Adalat said. “How do we create schools and classrooms where students feel welcome, (where) they feel supported regardless of what their experiences were last year or the year before?”

    The increase in expulsions corresponds with a host of issues schools are tackling post-pandemic. The district saw more than 2,000 student referrals to therapy in the first half of the last school year alone. Meanwhile, teachers across districts are burning out as student behavioral issues increase this school year.

    Approaches to expulsion also include collaboration with community organizations to provide mentoring and activities for students, Adalat said. School board candidates highlighted the importance of community organizations addressing student mental health and drug use in a recent forum.

    “This (support) system is bigger than the school district,” said Pattie Cortese, an East Side Union High School District board member. “The system includes our neighborhoods and our families and our businesses.”

    Tackling expulsion and reentry also requires a closer look at how student discipline affects students of color, said board member Lorena Chavez. Of the 21 students expelled, 13 were Latino. The 2022 Silicon Valley Pain Index revealed that school discipline disproportionately impacts Black and Latino students.

    “The majority there are Hispanic, are Latino students… That is disproportionality,” Chavez said. “How are we supporting our students, especially when we have a group that’s drastically… getting the most expulsions than other students?”

    Reentry plans push students to build a stronger support system and can involve requirements for the student to do well in class or attend counseling, Adalat said. Before a student’s expulsion term ends, the district requires a conversation between administrators and families to ensure students are comfortable returning to their original school or they can make the choice to stay at another school entirely.

    “I want to hear from the student: where they’re at, how they’re feeling, where their areas of growth are,” Adalat said. “The goal is within that year they’ve had an opportunity to really develop and think about their skills and their challenges.”

    Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.

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