The Time is Now: Students Talk School and Community Safety with Secretary Duncan

Duncan meets with students

Secretary Duncan talks with students about school safety as part of his ongoing Student Voices Series. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

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


  1. Thank God for your in sight and sharing this equation. Teacher do create a negative
    enviornment only because they have no clue, and no training resources in this area of behavior modification.

  2. There is a psychological component happening in schools around the U.S. there is a TOTAL failure to recognize that increased or hyper vigilance and punishment is actually FUELING the gun violence in schools.

    Paullina High School in Paullina Iowa is one such school. When a child is punished for NOT throwing out their graded homework or the homework saved in a specific binder and THEN punished for not turning IN the requested past homework, be it to enter it into the school computer, the child can ONLY break the rules or be punished 100% of the time.

    This is in EVERY school where children are labeled rather than embraced. I’m FURIOUSLY tired of this type of labeling. I happen to know for a fact my son isn’t the problem and it IS the school. We’ve moved a few times, he’s been successful in all but 2 of the schools. One was a private institution where the teacher was INCESSANTLY and OBSESSIVELY punishing my son for errors, making him rewrite ENTIRE pages if he missed a comma, or a period, and the other is Paullina High School, where the binder example is upheld weekly. it is STATISTICALLY impossible for every athletic person at this school to be getting great grades, and for the EXTREMELY high numbers of non-athletic students, even ACADEMICALLY INCLINED students to be failing. Struggling students cross ALL student populations.

    This school is just one example of how teachers are pigeonholing and creating the new gun violence by escalating anger issues rather than actually working with the students. I’ve worked my heart out to work with the school, and they’ve refused to work out a plan to get my son to a better place. He doesn’t go from a gifted Aerospace school in September (where he was thriving) to solid F’s a few months later. That’s the SCHOOL. Not my son.

    Paullina had the FBI called in due to bullying of a student who committed suicide. This school is a PRIME example of how teaching should NOT be done, and the Dept. of Ed should come in and not only correct it, but study it.

    Punishing any animal excessively makes the mean and vicious, the same is true of humans. Rewards however, brings out the best in everyone.

    I will be calling to report this school for fraud by the way. As I previously said, it’s statistically impossible to have all the athletic students getting high grades and the rest with an inordinately high number struggling to get C’s as their high goal. This school has that happening. Plenty of other criminal violations as well, such a a group of teachers surrounding one student in a hall and restraining that student in order to take an item from them (even if the item is forbidden, teachers are NOT authorized to restrain and ESPECIALLY not in large groups) Teachers humiliating students on a daily basis in class, and accusing students of things they’re not doing, such as carrying pocketknives and forcing them to empty their pockets and backpacks in front of everyone. There are more things, but this school is HIGHLY committing wrongs against its students. The unrest among students is palpable, and a gun violence (in a rural community especially ) WILL happen, it’s not an “IF” it’s a “WHEN.” The teachers created the monster. NOT the students. (that by the way is not a threat by me, it’s a prediction. I don’t have or possess guns and I’m the mother of the son who was admitted to the gifted school. By the way? I highly recommend that the Dept. of Education study two specifica models: Aerospace Academy at Colorado Springs, Colorado, which operates on a a rewards system, in a gang neighborhood is it HIGHLY effective, and then come and study Paullina High School and Middle School in Paullina Iowa. The difference will disgust you, sadden you and hopefully move you to make DRASTIC changes in federal school policies.

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