What's at Stake?
A new report from the Center for Public Integrity found that schools across the state are suspending homeless students at a rate higher than the district average.
Fresno Unified School District was identified by CPI to be one of those districts. Fresno Unified suspended 109 out of 862 identified homeless students in the 2021-2022 school year — “a frequency twice the rate of suspension for all other students.”
But Fresno Unified is far from the only district that suspends homeless students at a rate higher than their peers.
Homeless K-12 students in California were suspended at a rate higher than their peers during the 2021-2022 academic school year based on data published through a recent article by The Center for Public Integrity. The disproportionate rates are consistent across the state and across multiple different student demographics, such as race and ethnicity.
About 12,000 homeless students — 6% of the state’s overall student body — were suspended compared to only 3% of the remaining student population. CPI’s data also shows that homeless students were suspended at a rate that was at least double that of the district average in 20% of school districts across the state.
Of the remaining 77,188 students in Fresno Unified, the district suspended 5.6% — approximately 4,322.
What are Fresno schools doing to help unhoused students?
Fresno Unified School District Communications Team General Manager A.J. Kato responded to the article with a statement sent to Fresnoland through email. The district says that it is beginning to implement support services for homeless students in an effort to help reduce the suspension rate.
“This year we […] invested in targeted behavior supports[sic] specifically for our students experiencing homeless[sic] who are being suspended from school,” reads a portion of the statement. “This support includes a highly skilled practitioner who has expertise in behavior supports [sic]. They work with the student, the family, and the school staff to address the underlying behavior needs and develop and implement a behavior plan to help the student be successful in the classroom.”
CPI was told by some districts — including Fresno Unified — that the statistics may be flawed or misleading without taking into account the size of every district’s student body, as well as the amount of homeless students present within a school district during any given academic year.
Then district director of student support services Caine Christensen told CPI that the homeless student suspension rate was so high relative to the district average because the district did not have many unhoused students to begin with — an assertion CPI disputed.
“That assertion is not backed up by the district’s statistics,” wrote Amy DiPierro, the author of CPI’s article. “Public Integrity’s analysis found that Fresno’s tendency to suspend homeless students more than housed peers is not a fluke of small cohort size. A statistical test that takes into account the total number of homeless students showed a significant difference between suspension rates for housed and unhoused students in the 2021-2022 school year.”
Meetings with social workers are one of Fresno Unified’s current services available to homeless students. Kato’s statement to Fresnoalnd says that the social workers “work(…) closely with the child’s school to identify supports they need based on their needs.”
President of the Fresno Teachers Association Manuel Bonilla expressed concerns over the district’s current policies when talking to CPI. Bonilla felt that the current services are “not restorative” when it comes to suspended students repairing their relationship with school staff.
He also noted that many teachers don’t know a student’s housing status, leaving them feeling unprepared to give a proper punishment to students.