Central Valley Movement Building (CVMB) held its first Regional Partner Convening for this year to present and discuss the latest statistics about school suspension rates in the Central Valley, the school-to-prison pipeline, and the legal rights students and parents have in regard to school disciplinary policies .
The convening included parents, education activists, and students from California for Justice, Barrio Undios and Focus Forward (Fresno); Fathers and Families (Stockton), Black Parallel School Board (Sacramento); the Dolores Huerta Foundation (Kern); the California City Parallel School Advocates, and the Merced Black Parallel School Board.
This year’s convening was especially powerful in that it included parents and community organizers who are actively challenging issues of racial discrimination, unfair and costly student school suspensions of especially black and brown students, and poor academic support on the part of schools, administrators, and teachers in Central Valley schools.
CVMB Regional Coordinator, Stephanie Kamey, welcomed participants and facilitated the convening by giving a presentation about the goals of CVMB and the Five Principles Of Engagement. 11 participants signed the Principles of Engagement.
Dignity in Schools California team coordinator and research consultant, Tia Martinez, gave a powerful and alarming presentation of statistical data about the suspension and expulsion rates of students in the Central Valley.
Though Tia pointed out how suspensions have actually dropped by 46% in California (because of local activist work and restorative justice practices), the rates of suspensions and willful defiance are still worse for black and brown students in California. In fact, she pointed out several times that the Central Valley has the highest rates of in and out of school suspensions of all the regions and counties in California.
The Central Valley is driving suspensions for Black students, at 53%. Similar rates are also high for foster youth, 32.0%, and students with a disability at 20.5%, compared to 11.8% statewide. The highest suspending districts in California are in Merced county, at 25.2%, and in the Mojave school district, at 22%. Suspensions are even occurring at the elementary level. Fairfax Elementary, in Bakersfield, suspends 80.5% of its foster care students.
Suspensions Lead to Drop-Outs
The stats for school suspensions show that kids who are suspended are twice as likely to be held back in school. Tia explained that when students get behind and they stay behind. When suspended kids are not in school they are more exposed to aggressive policing in their communities, which can lead them to getting arrested and placed in jail or juvenile hall, which is difficult to get out of.
Suspended youth are twice as likely to drop of out school all together if they don’t have adequate family and school support networks. School suspensions and expulsions, along with poor academics and counseling can mean that suspended students are acceptable to arrests, being putting into the juvenile justice system, and ultimately in prison. This process is what is meant by the school-to-prison pipeline.
Know Your Rights
One of the purposes and goals of CVMB is to help parents and advocacy groups monitor and challenge what’s going on with the most racially targeted students in school districts, who are disproportionately suspended from school, and who get sucked into the school-to-prison pipeline.
CVMB invited members of Legal Services for Children and Coleman Advocates to give a presentation and training for how to advocate for youth and families, by being aware of and challenging the policies and practices that harshly punish students for breaking certain rules regardless of circumstances.
Zero Tolerance Policies in schools are used to suspend students for willful defiance or disruption, which can include chewing gum in class, wearing an unacceptable hairstyle, failing to follow directions in class, and many other minor incidents and behaviors. Research has shown that the practice of suspending students for willful defiance is often subjective and disproportionately meted out to students of color.
Many parents may not still know that by current law, students in grades K-3 cannot be suspended for willful defiance or disruption, but that law is set to sunset on July 1 of this year. Senator Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, has authored legislation, SB 607, that will extend the current law for grades K-5 and through 2023 for grades 6-12. When students are suspended from school, they are missing classroom participation and learning time. That’s why it’s important to support and advocate for legislation like SB 607 to protect young people, mostly students of color, from discriminatory practices that keep them from getting the education they need.
During the presentation and discussion for Know Your Rights, the question arose about who is monitoring the actions of teachers and the school climate that contribute to disciplinary problems in the classroom. Parents should have the right to know which teachers in schools are sending kids to the principal’s office the most, or whom are having difficulty developing and maintaining a positive classroom environment conducive for teaching and learning.
In nearly all cases, the focus is on what students are doing wrong, but there’s less or no monitoring of teachers who consistently have classroom management problems, who consistently give low grades, and who are not culturally aware of and sensitive to students they teach. Furthermore, too many students of color graduate from school never being taught by a teacher of color, especially an African American male or Latino teacher.
We need to monitor schools for multicultural inclusion, after-school programs, and sufficient counselor and social workers, instead adding more police on campus.
Parent and Community Activism
The purpose of the CVMB convening also enables parents and activist groups to network and exchange strategies for confronting the challenges they are facing with schools and districts in their community.
One of the big successes this year has been the founding of the California City Parallel School Advocates, and the Merced Black Parallel School Board, to organize and start making presentations and demands at their respective school board in their district. Both of these groups were inspired by the Black Parallel School Board in Sacramento, of whom CVMB coordinator Carl Pinkston is a founding member.
These groups can begin to learn about and influence the Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) and the Local Control Funding Formula in their districts to earmark money for smaller classroom sizes, professional teacher training, after school programs, and to achieve other goals to increase student opportunities and academic achievement.
Similarly, organizers of the Dolores Huerta Foundation gave a presentation of a survey they conducted with parents about how aware they are of Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS), as well as getting stories about what students of color are experiencing in their school.
Join the Movement
The only way we can continue to reduce school suspensions and increase academic opportunities and achievement is by getting parents, students, and even teachers involved in advocating for changes that will help keep students of color from entering the school-to-prison pipeline.