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A recent Hechinger analysis of reports from California’s largest school district illuminates a problem as the number of students affected by disciplinary transfers or hidden expulsions was revealed. Practices that remove students from their schools for offenses that don’t meet the level of expulsion have gone largely unnoticed by the public as there is little oversight, and policies help facilitate these actions.

The analysis looked at five consecutive academic years, adding up to 5,800 recorded transfers, which cited “specific discipline reasons.” The report suggests that up to 3,700 of these transfers may have more accurately been expulsions. Included in this report were 23 schools from Bakersfield City School District to Irvine Unified. Coming in third with 2,798 disciplinary transfers was Riverside Unified School District. Many of the schools included in this analysis are frequently sending their students to schools with poorer academic standards. 

While some disciplinary transfers may be in the best interest of the student by ensuring they attend a school with greater flexibility or more resources, a lack of clarity in district records indicates that these transfers are being used to siphon out specific demographics. Schools have been silently pushing students out of school and labeling them as problem children. 

In early March, state education officials introduced a hotline meant to be an outlet for reporting excessive discipline, specifically exclusionary discipline, in California schools. They accused school districts of covering up official expulsion or suspension numbers. State Superintendent Tony Thurmond made a statement connecting exclusionary discipline with pushing children toward the criminal justice system.

L.A. Unified’s policies present another issue with internally recorded “opportunity transfers.” These transfers have been inaccurately labeled as “voluntary” as students are moved to a different school “to address student misconduct after prior interventions have failed.” 

The entirety of this situation was allowed to devolve further as oversight is all but nonexistent. A 2021 civil suit filed by parents asserted that Black and Latino students have been disproportionately affected by these disciplinary practices. The lack of state intervention as school districts work to hide the degree to which students are struggling and further impede their education is abysmal. Schools are not required to report transfers as they do expulsions and suspensions, which is what has allowed this problem to flourish.

A report from the National Education Policy Center unambiguously states that research indicates “changing schools can harm normal child and adolescent development by disrupting relationships with peers and teachers as well as altering a student’s educational program.” Also cited were negative effects on test scores and graduation rates.

These schools have failed their students and aim to make these children, many of whom are struggling even more after the effects of the pandemic, someone else’s problem. The State of California and all participating school districts are effectively taking a blowtorch to their students’ right to an equal education.