Today students, teachers, and parents will hold a press conference on the front steps of the School District building protesting the School District’s approach to discipline. Despite the District having modified its zero tolerance policy, youth still say the overly harsh discipline practices are pushing students out of school.
“They may have changed a few words, but the policy still looks the same,” says Shakur Miller, a junior at Mastbaum High School and a member of Youth United for Change. “When students can be suspended for a dress code violation, something is wrong.”
Other large, urban districts are moving away from exclusionary discipline and towards discipline models that seek to reduce suspensions and address root causes of issues. As recently as June 2012, the school district of Chicago passed a new code of conduct that called for suspensions to be used as a last resort.
Members of the Campaign for Nonviolent Schools (CNS) have been working with the School District on School Reform Commissioner Lorene Cary’s Safety & Engagement Committee since early February. The District’s code of conduct has come before this committee of students, teachers, and community stakeholders.
“They ask for our opinion, and we tell them that part of making schools safer is by having smart discipline,” says Alycia Duncan, a junior at West Philadelphia High School and a member of the Philadelphia Student Union. “We hope that they will take us seriously and make some changes.”
CNS has been working since 2009 to engage leaders of the School District in developing alternatives to current school discipline. Supporting CNS and their work for smarter school discipline are City Councilors Maria Quiñones-Sánchez and Kenyatta Johnson. In the 2008-2009 school year alone there were almost 3,000 school-based arrests, despite continued research that shows that the criminalization of youth only leads to more frequent arrests and lost education time, not reductions in violent incidents.