The fight to end the school-to-jail track and reestablish restorative justice practices is personal for Jasmine Jauregui, a youth organizer from the Youth Justice Coalition.
“I have a family with a history of incarceration. My father is serving a life sentence at the moment and I don’t feel comfortable around [school resource] officers.”
Jauregui is just one of a number of students who recently met with Secretary Arne Duncan and David Esquith, director of the Office of Safe and Healthy Students (OSHS), at the Department of Education to discuss school safety. The students, who work to break down silos and make their schools and communities safer, represented coalition members of the Alliance for Educational Justice (AEJ), the Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) and Padres y Jovenes Unidos (Parents & Youth United).
One day before the students met with Secretary Duncan, they participated in a rally on Capitol Hill calling on Congress to implement positive approaches in response to gun violence and address the impact of school safety policies.
Secretary Duncan applauded the students’ efforts to make their voices heard to lawmakers and was interested in hearing some of the alternative recommendations they’ve developed.
“Rather than promote more school resources officers (SROs) in schools, we want school administrators to promote positive measures such as positive behavior intervention and restorative justice,” said Yuki Diaz, a youth organizer of Padres y Jovenes Unidos via video teleconference.
Other students agreed, saying that they felt their schools needed an increased presence in guidance counselors, social workers and psychologists.
Secretary Duncan said that he believes each school is unique and should have the flexibility to choose school resource officers or social workers and counselors in order to prevent violence.
Padres y Jovenes Uniodos recently reached a historic partnership with the Denver’s police department and school district that limits the role of police in schools. The organization is hoping that their interagency agreement will be used as a model for other urban schools confronted with alarming rates of misconduct and violence.
The Department of Education has already provided technical aid to help nearly 18,000 schools implement evidence-based strategies to improve school climate. “One of the things that the President is proposing is a new $50 million initiative to scale up positive behavioral interventions and supports,” said David Esquith.
Other youth activists such as Nicole Cheatom of the Baltimore Algebra Project said that it shouldn’t have taken the tragedy at Sandy Hook to build momentum on school and community safety. She cited that a school shooting occurred last year at Perry Hall high school in Baltimore, and that it didn’t receive national attention.
Earlier this month, ED’s Office of Safe and Healthy Students awarded more than $35,000 to the Baltimore, County, Md., high school. The Project School Emergency Response to Violence (Project SERV) grant will assist with ongoing recovery efforts.
Christina Cathey, a youth activist and college student at Tugaloo College said that she hopes the Department continues to support alternatives to a culture of zero-tolerance, punishment and push out in schools. She said that ED’s leadership can serve as a catalyst at the local-level.
Click here to read the President Obama’s plan to make our schools safer.
Click here to read the students’ joint issue briefing.
De’Rell Bonner works in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach