The Equal Justice Society joined a number of organizations in signing a letter in support of a California bill that would give school districts the tools necessary to keep kids in school.
The bill is AB 2489, introduced by Calif. Assemblymember Kevin McCarty and sponsored by Restorative Schools Vision Project (RSVP).
This historic legislation would empower school districts wishing to implement Restorative Justice (RJ) and Social Emotional Learning on their K-12 campuses. These positive practices have been proven to help build healthy, productive school communities and offer educators a much needed alternative to harsh punishments.
All across America, “zero tolerance” punishment is being replaced by Restorative Justice and other proven approaches to conflict that do not disproportionately penalize students of color, foster youth, Native American children, English learners, LGBTQ students, and others.
Instead of burying these young scholars and their teachers under harmful zero tolerance policies, schools are poised to become communities of learning, respect, creativity, and growth. This bill provides California educators needed support to understand and implement RJ best practices
Data from the United States Department of Education proves that black students are suspended from school at more than three times the rates of their white peers. This shameful bias and disparity has created what is called “the school-to-prison pipeline.” Suspended students are more likely to drop out of school, and even a single suspension triples the likelihood that the student will be engaged with the juvenile justice system within a year.
These civil rights violations caused the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education to issue new guidelines for school districts to reduce and replace their reliance on punitive school discipline policies. “Equality in education is one of the most pressing civil rights issues of our time. To help close the achievement gap, we must use alternatives to school discipline policies such as restorative justice, to keep our kids in the classroom so they can succeed,” said Assemblymember Kevin McCarty.
Restorative Justice responds to deeper challenges that school communities face in the 21st century. Schools practicing RJ use a range of community building, preventative, and responsive practices that respectfully engage students to move from being part of the problem to being part of the solution.
Children at all levels learn with their teachers how to repair harm and build community using classroom “circles”. Students and teachers actually sit in a circle and have open conversations. They get to know one another and build common bonds, learn from each other and become more invested in their shared success. RJ works to address the underlying causes for behavioral and truancy issues, and aims to engage students in a process whereby they gain insight and learn from their mistakes.
“Kids who are chronically absent, truant or face repeated punishment from schools need more help not less,” said RSVP President Stella Connell Levy. “Many of these kids come from homes and communities where trauma, stress, and violence are their reality. Zero tolerance policies do absolutely nothing to offer the compassionate support needed to address the underlying issues for disruptive behavior.”
AB 2489 empowers youth the opportunity to explore how disruptive actions impact their learning experience and that of their peers. They are encouraged to take action to repair the harm, and make the changes necessary to prevent harmful behaviors in the future.
RSVP is a California nonprofit dedicated to ending the school-to-prison pipeline by changing the discipline paradigm from zero tolerance punishment to Restorative Justice. RSVP was founded as a response to the crisis in public school education brought about by the disproportionate impact of suspensions and expulsions on students of color, students with disabilities, LGBTQ youth, and other marginalized groups.
“This bill is a historic achievement for the movement to disrupt the-school-to-prison pipeline,” said RSVP Executive Director Ali Cooper. “California students deserve a pathway through the schoolhouse not the jail house.”
Visit http://restorativeschoolsproject.org to learn more.