L.A. Unified Puts a Clog in the School-to-prison Pipeline

On Tuesday, May 14th, Los Angeles Unified School District voted in a 5-2 ruling to ban suspension for “willful defiance.”

LAUSD is the second largest school district in the country and the first in California to completely ban defiance as grounds for suspension.

Making Sure All Youth Are Treated Fairly

In a district where over 80% of the students are youth of color, suspensions for minor behavioral issues are keeping an overwhelming number of African American and Latino students from access to education. They are often suspended from school for acts such as wearing improper uniforms and cell phone use.

LA Times reports, “the offense accounted for 48% of 710,000 suspensions issued in California in 2011-12.” In the previous year, African American students made up 9% of the student population, but made up 26% of the students suspended in L.A. Unified.

The disproportionate effect is what prompted board members Monica Garcia and Nury Martinez to push the proposal. With the support of community organizations, nonprofits, and Superintendent John Deasy, L.A. Unified has another historic victory under its belt.

Restorative Justice and Other Alternatives

Although students will no longer get suspended for “willful defiance,” Board members have made it clear that schools will not simply let students off for breaking the rules.

Instead of sending students home, school officials are required to set in place alternative disciplinary actions to keep kids on campus. LAUSD will have to use programs like restorative justice and behavioral incentives to address defiance issues.

Through restorative justice, students are not suspended and are instead held accountable for their actions by determining the root of a problem while developing solutions to resolve issues and prevent the negative behavior in the future.

Practicing restorative justice in schools has resulted in significant drops in disruptive behavior, suspensions, violence, and reoffending, as this video from a West Philadelphia high school shows.

Pushing Youth to Excel, Not into Prison

"For the youth, this experience afforded them a rare and sacred opportunity to test their dedication to the social justice, increase their faith in organizing and positively effect the culture and climate of their school communities," said Alex Stewart, a Community Coalition youth organizer involved in the campaign.

In a district where students feel policed and are set up for failure, this victory helps to slow down the flow of students headed towards incarceration through the school-to-prison pipeline.

Take a look at the graphic from Community Coalition for more information on the school-to-prison pipeline:

L.A. Unified has taken the lead and made a bold statement with the ruling. Bay Area schools in Oakland, Berkeley, and Contra Costa have used alternative measures to address behavioral issues.

What do you think about this ruling? What would you like to see happen in your own local schools?  Please share in the comments below.

Photo credit: Alberto Retana, Executive Director, Community Coalition