School Discipline Called Into Question

School discipline recently grabbed national attention when a cell phone video surfaced showing a white male police officer shove a female student of color, flipping her over in her desk, then dragging the student across the classroom floor with considerable force.

“There is no justification whatsoever for treating a child like this,” said Victoria Middleton, Executive director for the South Carolina branch of the American Civil Liberties Union. “Regardless of the reason for the officer’s actions, such egregious use of force against young people who are sitting in their classrooms is outrageous. School should be a place to learn and grow, not a place to be brutalized.”

This issue was taken up multiple times at the 2015 Equity Summit in Los Angeles, leading to discussion on how effective punishment is in schools. Alan Obregon and Phuong Pham attended the summit with Mid City Community Advocacy Network’s Peace Promotion Momentum Team. The two students attend Crawford Law Academy and are active advocates for Restorative Justice: an alternative to the current school justice system.

“We have to reach out more. We need the community to help back the results of restorative justice. We need the community to come tell the district, ‘Hey this works. We want this and we want it now’” said Alan Obregon. “It’s really important for the community to support us and back us up for this program.”  

The results are astounding. The Restorative Justice efforts in City Heights (both at Crawford High School and the Restorative Community Conference Pilot Project) have been significant. The restorative process involves voluntarily meeting face-to-face and working out customized plans of action, which are designed to repair the harm done to the victims, families and community. Since first being implemented in 2014, each case that has been all the way through the program has reached an agreement on an action plan for the youth to complete.

“The 100% agreement rate, 100% satisfaction rate, and 95% compliance rate are evidence of what we all intuitively already know; that dialogue and joint problem solving are more effective means than one-size-fits-all solutions,” said Steven Dinkin, President of the National Conflict Resolution Center.

This tremendous local success is echoed by several other school districts in California, where the programs receive more funding than San Diego, such as Los Angeles Unified School District.

“In L.A. their successes were brought by the community coming together, and a challenge I see in City Heights is that our community is very diverse and we might not trust each other because we come form different backgrounds,” said Phuong Pham. “There are 37 different languages just at Crawford High School, so how many are there in City Heights?”

The language barriers will not stop students like Obregon and Pham. After attending the Summit they are more inspired than ever to push for restorative justice.

“We need to show the data and facts to the district. Look other cities are doing it as well. We should do it like them,” said Obregon. “It’s working for them, what’s stopping us form being like them?”

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