Press ReleasesFebruary 26, 2014
Parents and Students Rally as SFUSD Board Votes on Landmark Resolution to Eliminate Suspension Gap for Students of Color
SAN FRANCISCO – Parents and students rallied as the San Francisco Unified School District voted Tuesday, February 25, on a plan to reduce suspensions for students of color and create a comprehensive system of positive interventions, restorative practices, and supports. With the approval of the Safe and Supportive Schools Resolution, San Francisco is now the second California school district to ban suspensions for minor behavior commonly known as “willful defiance.”
The landmark resolution also states that “out of school suspensions should only be an absolute last resort” and requires all schools in the District to pursue alternatives such as restorative practices or positive behavior support that can help students learn rather than sending them home for an unsupervised vacation, something research shows only make the problem worse. At schools that suspend high numbers of African American students, staff training and support for alternative discipline strategies and monitoring by the Superintendent’s office is required.
Passage of the resolution would make San Francisco a leader in the national and state movement away from exclusionary and harsh discipline and toward an accountability system that helps students improve their behavior while staying in school and on track. Last month, the Department of Justice and Department of Education released Federal School Discipline Guidance that affirms the necessity for many aspects of the San Francisco resolution. Like the Safe and Supportive Schools Resolution, the Federal Guidance provides legal direction for schools to address racial discrimination and encourages positive research-based alternatives to harsh discipline with the goal of reducing suspensions and expulsions in schools nationwide.
Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth launched a “Solutions not Suspensions” campaign last year to promote positive change in San Francisco schools. Since then more than 30 organizations that serve youth and families have joined the effort (see full list below).
SFUSD suspension data requested by Coleman Advocates and Public Counsel shows shocking disparities in the issuance of suspensions. African-American and Latino students make up 77% of all SFUSD suspensions and 81% of all suspensions for “willful defiance,” a category under state education code that includes a wide range of student behavior including coming late to class, talking back, or failing to turn in homework. African American students alone are more than 50% of suspensions, despite the fact that they make up less than 10% of the total student population.
“I’ve been suspended for chewing gum, talking in class, wearing a hat – stuff that someone could have just talked to me about. Instead I got kicked out without any conversation and I missed class and fell behind,” said African American student Kevin Murcia, who is now a fifth-year senior at Downtown High School because of months of class time lost to school suspensions. “The Safe and Supportive Schools Resolution means schools won’t give up on struggling students like they did on me.”
Coleman Advocates and Public Counsel, a nonprofit law firm that works statewide to end overly harsh school discipline, are leading the effort to pass the resolution and said it will address racial disparities in San Francisco school suspensions and support schools in putting in place alternatives that work to keep schools safe and help all students.
“We are confident that the School Board will choose to be on the right side of history by passing the Safe and Supportive Schools Resolution,” said Kevine Boggess, Director of Civic Engagement at Coleman Advocates. “It is time for SFUSD to join the growing national movement of school districts around the country abandoning harsh school removal practices for proven, research-based alternatives that make schools safer, improve student achievement, and create a more positive school climate for teachers and students.”
”With passage of this resolution, San Francisco Unified is poised to leave behind its appalling track record of disproportionately suspending students of color and forge a new path as a statewide leader in graduating students of color,” said Laura Faer, Statewide Education Rights Director at Public Counsel.
The SFUSD board’s action comes as California lawmakers are considering Assembly Bill 420, which would restrict the use of “willful defiance” and require the use of alternatives to harsh discipline. According to data released last month by the California Department of Education, “willful defiance” still accounts for 43% of all suspensions in California.
Several nationally respected studies have shown that suspensions lead to extremely poor educational outcomes and a fast track to incarceration. One study found that students are 5 times more likely to drop out, 6 times more likely to repeat a grade, and 3 times more likely to have contact with the juvenile justice system if suspended even once.
The resolution requires the Superintendent to create a plan to implement changes within 120 days and give progress reports to the Board of Education.
Founded in 1975, Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth is a member-led, multi-racial community organization working to create a city of hope, justice, and opportunity for all children and families in San Francisco.
Public Counsel is the nation’s largest pro bono law firm with a 40-year history of fighting for the rights of students, children, families, and others in need of justice. Public Counsel has been a leader in promoting alternatives to harsh discipline in California schools. Learn more at www.FixSchoolDiscipline.org.
The following organizations have officially endorsed Coleman Advocates’ Solutions Not Suspensions Campaign and the Safe and Supportive Schools Resolution:
1. Bayview Magic
2. Brothers Making Change/100% College Prep
4. Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice
5. Center for Young Women's Development
7. Chinese Progressive Association
8. Filipino Community Center
9. Gay-Straight Alliance Network
10. Gray Panthers of SF
12. Huckleberry Youth Programs
13. Instituto Familiar de la Raza, Inc.
14. Larkin Street Youth Services
15. Legal Services for Children
17. Mission Graduates
18. Mission Neighborhood Centers, Inc.
19. Parkmerced Action Coalition
20. Performing Arts Workshop
23. Public Counsel
24. Richmond District Neighborhood Center
25. San Francisco Rising Alliance
26. Senior and Disability Action
27. Solidarity Organizing Project
28. Sunset District Neighborhood Coalition
29. Sunset Youth Services
30. Support for Families
31. Transitional Age Youth San Francisco (TAYSF)
32. Teach for America- San Francisco
33. United Playaz
34. Young Community Developers
35. Youth Commission
36. Youth Leadership Institute