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LBUSD Board Unanimously Votes to Reform Exclusionary Disciplinary Policies

Addison Article photo 1 Photos by Hannah Maynard


Brian Addison picture
October 09, 2013

Tasha Hunter, a sub­sti­tute teacher and mother of three, stood calm­ly amidst the hun­dreds of stu­dents cheer­ing and pro­test­ing for disci­plinary re­form at the Long Beach Uni­fied School Dis­trict (LBUSD) ad­mini­stra­tion build­ing Tuesday after­noon.

She knew all too well why the crowd was angry and frus­tra­ted.

"I had to step in as a sub­sti­tute in a class," Hunter said. "And [the teacher I was sub­sti­tut­ing for] im­mediate­ly named a speci­fic stu­dent by name. 'That child,' she told me, 'do not hesi­tate in kick him out. Do not let him stress you out.' And when he walked into class, I was up­front with him: 'I am not going kick you outta class; I'm going to work with you.' And whattya know? He wanted to stay in class. He wanted to work."

Launched by a co­ali­tion of non­profits and com­munity organi­zations, the Every Student Matters (ESM) cam­paign seeks to ad­dress this exact problem: the uni­later­al abili­ty of teachers to re­move students from class with­out proto­col, former warnings, or pre­cedence.

"We need to have a rule in place, at least a sequence as op­posed to a single-view form of dis­cretion: 'Oh, you're dis­turb­ing the room, leave, don't come back'," said LBUSD mother Bernadette Kennard­. "It's es­sential that we have proto­col. We have proto­col for every­thing else—why not disci­pline?"

ESM organi­zers, who joined LBUSD high school stu­dents on the lawns of the dis­trict's admini­stra­tion build­ing shortly before the Board was to formal­ly ad­dress its re­form policy by agree­ing that the uni­later­al ap­proach is archaic.

In­stead, the Board voted in favor of an evidence-based ap­proach known as re­stora­tive justice—ap­plied to every form of disci­pline, from direct crimi­nal be­havior to class­room behavior—which focuses on repair­ing harm rather than dis­missing it and in­clud­ing both vic­tim and of­fender in mend­ing the situ­ation.

In other words, rather than right-and-wrong be­tween stu­dents and teachers, a mutual under­standing that dis­agree­ments are bound to hap­pen and there is more value in see­ing one another's views rather than dis­mis­sing them.

Addison article photo 2

"Long Beach has a high pover­ty rate," said ESM organizer Lian Sheun. "This, in turn, heightens student stress. We need to make re­form a priori­ty so that we can proper­ly equip stu­dents and teachers with what they need to in­crease class time for stu­dents rather than punish­ing them with acade­mic fail­ure."

Ac­cording to Sheun, 9,555 sus­pensions were issued last year in LBUSD. A large major­ity of those sus­pensions—3,972, or about 42% of the total sus­pensions issued are for willful de­fiance, or sim­ply a zero toler­ance policy for stu­dents who do comply with all direc­tions of teachers and admini­rstrators. Los Angeles Uni­fied banned sus­pensions for will­ful de­fiance earlier this year, with sup­porters of the ban noting that it is counter­intui­tive to punish teen­agers for be­having like teen­agers, including the ever-popu­lar be­havior of the class clown.

Echo­ing the senti­ment of the pro­testors, the Board unanimous­ly passed a reso­lution that will "pro­mote posi­tive alter­natives to ex­clusion­ary school dis­cipline" with an empha­sis on the afore­mentioned restor­ative jus­tice.

"Restora­tive jus­tice allows a stu­dent to see the larger pic­ture of [their] defi­ance," said Barbara Lindholm, Princi­pal at Reid Continu­v­ation High School. "We aren't inter­ested in 'punish­ment.' Rather, we want to in­cul­cate the values of empathy, orderli­ness, and man­ners in students—life­long les­sons which they will use in future arenas."