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willful.JPGA campaign by civil rights groups and their political supporters to reduce suspensions and expulsion of public school students due to their disproportionate effect on black and Latino youngsters may be paying off.

The state Department of Education reported Thursday that there were sharp drops of both kinds of disciplinary actions during the 2012-13 school year - 14.1 percent in the former and 12.3 percent in the latter - from the previous year.

State schools chief Tom Torlakson hailed the trend, saying in a statement, "Educators across California work hard to keep students in school and learning. It can be a challenge to find the balance between maintaining a safe learning environment and giving young people the tools and opportunities they need to succeed. But we're working with schools and districts throughout the state to do exactly that."

While the declines were similar among all ethnic groups, black and Latino students still had suspension rates higher than their proportions of the state's six million K-12 students, while those of white and Asian students were lower.

Critics have said that school officials are too quick to rid themselves of troublesome students, often by citing "willful defiance" as the cause, and have pushed legislation to make such discipline more difficult. "Willful defiance" suspensions dropped 23.8 percent in 2012-13 while expulsions for that rationale declined by 18.6 percent.

Overall, suspensions decreased from 709,596 to 609,471 and expulsions from 9,758 to 8,562.

A bill making it more difficult to expel students for willful defiance, Assembly Bill 420, cleared the Assembly last year and is pending in the Senate. Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed two bills on the topic in 2012.

PHOTO: Actors Marcenus Earl as Principal Burton, left, and Donald Calhoun as Thomas play out a scene from a production called, "Willfull" in a hearing room at the state Capitol in Sacramento on Wednesday, June 26, 2013. The people in the play are students, community members and actors who are supposed to have had personal experience with harsh discipline. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton




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