Young Leaders Attain Restorative School Discipline Policies

A dedicated group of young advocates have scored a huge milestone in reforming school discipline in California’s fourth largest school district.

On Wednesday, the Fresno Unified School District’s board of trustees voted to adopt a framework of restorative practices in school discipline, and allocated $500,000 to start implementing these practices across the district. This shift to restorative discipline practices is not only a big change for the district’s 72,000 students, it’s also a big win for YLI’s youth leaders in the SUCCESS youth advocacy council.

Students United to Create a Climate of Engagement, Support, and Safety (SUCCESS) is a partnership of students and community allies who have been championing a move to restorative discipline at Fresno Unified for several years. SUCCESS first convened in 2010, when students started voicing disappointment that the district’s harsh, punitive disciplinary policies often took students out of the classroom and away from academic achievement over minor, non-violent offenses.

SUCCESS started by assessing the district’s current policies. Focus groups revealed that current discipline practices and policies were unfair and inconsistent, impeded healthy adult-student relationships, and hindered academic achievement. Armed with these findings, the SUCCESS team held conferences, met with the superintendent and talked to restorative justice experts across the state. SUCCESS joined the district’s Graduation Task Force, where they developed a set of recommendations on reforming the district’s discipline practices in favor of a restorative approach. These recommendations were put before the FUSD board in June 2012, where they gained unanimous passage.

SUCCESS and supporters rallied before school board meetings, testified before the school board, submitted countless letters to the editor at local papers, and gathered over 1,000 signatures on their restorative discipline petition. In response, the school board hosted a workshop on restorative justice where youth and their adult allies were invited to educate and inform the board regarding the mechanics and efficacy of restorative justice. This push culminated in last Wednesday’s vote, where the school district agreed to start implementing restorative justice across the district.

But the hard work for these young leaders is not over. SUCCESS members are now working with the district on planning the rollout of these discipline policy changes. The young leaders are drafting scenarios to help school administrators and personnel understand where restorative justice practices aid the disciplinary process. They’re also establishing criteria to determine which schools should be the first to start rolling out restorative discipline.

Perhaps the biggest victory for the young leaders in SUCCESS is seeing the collective voice of young people positively shape the institutions that affect them. As SUCCESS youth advocate Ellen Carretero, 18, shared, “we knew that along the way, at some point, that the RJ [restorative justice resolution] was finally going to pass and the FUSD board members were going to take notice of the youth voice and that the young people actually do care about their schools and that they do want to graduate and be better in life and they [FUSD] are finally recognizing that…”

YLI CEO, CJ Callen, sees this victory as a sign of more to come. “I feel like this is the dawn of a new era where the power of young people can affect systems… These youth were able to give adults a glimpse of the future, and [they] ruled the day.”

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