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Robert K. Ross, M.D. and California Youth Submit Testimonies to the Senate Judiciary Committee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights

WASHINGTON, DC.(December 12, 2012) – Today, Robert K. Ross, M.D., president and CEO of the California Endowment, and hundreds of California youth submitted their testimonies to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights Hearing on Ending the Schools-to-Prison Pipeline.

Dr. Ross affirmed The Endowment’s commitment to raise awareness about the problem of extreme school discipline and its effect on the health and wellbeing of California’s youth, as well as The Endowment’s efforts to help schools and school districts reform their policies.  Dr. Ross also discussed the Building Healthy Communities program—14 cities and neighborhoods across California that are working to reshape their communities in ways that prioritize the health of their citizens.

Submitted alongside the testimony were approximately 200 person testimonies written by California students, who shared their own experiences with a disciplinary process that often leads—unnecessarily—to the criminal justice system, and keeps them from their education.

One student wrote: “Even for minor things, it seems like police are always involved in our lives at school.  It’s a big part of how we get pushed out of school.  When you get treated like this it is demeaning.  So, a lot of people I know just stop caring about school, they just don’t care anymore.  And it fits with how people treat us in South LA…the message is: 'You are nothing’”

Dr. Ross’s testimony made several key points, drawn from The Endowment’s in-depth work with communities:

  • Public schools suspend too many students, often for minor infractions that would have meant a stern lecture, or a visit to the principal’s office before new, harsher policies were put in place
  • African Americans and Latinos face a disproportionate risk of suspension, almost certainly contributing to persistent achievement gaps.
  • Harsh suspension policies don’t work – there is no evidence that extreme school discipline policies make classroom safer, and considerable evidence suggests they leader to worse outcomes.
  • There is a better way to approach the issues that zero tolerance policies attempt to solve.  Pioneering schools and school districts are discovering alternatives to a suspension-first approach, and they’re achieving great results.
  • Surveys conducted by The California Endowment show that the public overwhelmingly supports common sense reform.
  • Shifting away from longstanding practice is hard, and we can’t reasonably expect schools to reform their policies without expert advice, training and ongoing support.  That’s why teachers and administrators need our help.

“[When] we sat down with young people in our target neighborhoods and asked them: What are the obstacles to getting ahead in your neighborhoods and in your schools?  What blocks you from leading a healthier life?  We kept hearing the same answer, over and over again.  Young people told us that extreme school discipline policies were among the biggest barriers they faced,” said Ross.

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About The California Endowment

The California Endowment is a private, statewide health foundation, which was established in 1996 to expand access to affordable, quality health care for underserved individuals and communities, and to promote fundamental improvements in the health status of all Californians. Headquartered in downtown Los Angeles. The Endowment has regional offices in Sacramento, Oakland, Fresno and San Diego, with program staff working throughout the state. The Endowment challenges the conventional wisdom that medical settings and individual choices are solely responsible for people's health. The Endowment believes that health happens in neighborhoods, schools, and with prevention. For more information, visit The Endowment’s homepage at www.calendow.org