SFUSD should work to end student suspensions 

The most vulnerable members of our school population need the most support available to them, and one way for the San Francisco Unified School District to do that is to institute restorative justice instead of suspensions where it can.

In 2009, the school district created a restorative practices department, and since then student suspensions have dropped by 30 percent. But there still are far too many suspensions, especially for a type of behavior that is called willful defiance or disruption. The problem is that the vague terms can be applied to students in different ways, and what are ultimately small indiscretions, such as swearing, could result in a student missing school.

A resolution at the Board of Education, which the board’s Committee of the Whole is scheduled to hear this week, would call on the district to end suspensions except for when called on by state law.

The idea of ending suspensions — which has been done in a few districts, including in Los Angeles — is not about being soft on student discipline. The discipline process should work in steps, starting with the least disruptive to a student’s academic work and continuing up through processes in which the students are part of the resolution efforts.

A tiered response should also include trauma response on the part of the school district. It is especially foolhardy to believe that sending a student away to an environment in which the problem stems will help end the problem. Any school, or district, will never be able to entirely mend the wounds inflicted elsewhere, but they also don’t have to cast the injured student aside. The limited support available from the district in the restorative justice process would, for some students, be more than they receive elsewhere.

The reasons for ending discretionary suspensions also extend to the rate at which they are used among minority students. Especially troubling is the rate of suspensions and expulsions of black students in San Francisco. Though black students make up roughly 10 percent of the student population in the district, they account for more than 50 percent of suspensions and expulsions, district data show.

The link between students who miss a lot of school and future incarceration rates is strong enough to posit that school leaders and community members as a whole should be working toward keeping youths in the classroom in order to keep them out of prison.

In order for the school district to move ahead with limiting suspensions, the Board of Education needs to approve a resolution that would initiate a three-year plan for restorative practices. There are many questions ahead for how this process should be instituted in the district, but the board is not being asked to ensure that every last detail be perfect. Rather, they are being asked to set a policy that will be started and figured out along the way. Even when it is started it may not be perfect, and officials likely will have to revisit the nuts and bolts of the procedure down the line.

The Board of Education should set the school district on the right track of restorative justice. The board members each have the chance to help ensure that students who commit minor offenses have a chance to right their wrongs before the transgressions majorly disrupt their future.

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