Across California and the country, criminal justice reform has become a relatively mainstream political issue. Prior to election, Governor Gavin Newsom had campaigned heavily for meaningful juvenile justice reform across the state. The latest of these pushes for reform came from Senator Nancy Skinner of Berkeley. Her Senate Bill 419 would ensure suspensions are not administered for “disruptive behavior” as a way to promote practices of restorative justice and to encourage a student’s overall wellbeing. Since these issues directly impact our schools, I reached out to students from three public schools in California, to sample reactions to this policy and to determine what else they believe might be done to combat the school-to-prison pipeline.
The students overwhelmingly supported the policy and even proposed policies that go one step farther than the SB 419, in the hope the cycle of incarceration can be stopped. Julianna Cromeenes from Sacramento New Technology High School explained, “suspending disruptive students allows for students that are trying to focus to stay focused in class without having disruptive classmates or a teacher that has to constantly deal with a misbehaving student. On the other hand a disruptive student often has a deeper issue leading them to misbehave. . . I do not believe that suspending a student will help reinforce a better next time.” While many students such as Julianna understand some of the logic of the Bill it is agreed upon by most that the method of suspending students is not effective and should be replaced by more restorative measures.
The Bill also examines what behaviors are deemed disruptive and what might be the cause for this “disruptive” behavior. Kate Tully of CK McClatchy High School explained, “… less disciplinary action against ‘disruptive students’ is really important. Often times what we understand as ‘disruptive’ is really actually behavioral issues or mental health (issues)… when schools are unable to provide any semblance of behavioral counseling or support, and instead resort to punishment, that creates almost a cycle of discipline.” Removal from an educational environment does nothing to help these students with whatever may cause their behavioral challenges.
“Restorative justice is far better than punitive measures because it gives kids who actually want to learn the ability to do so,” explains Evelyn Grandfield of Nevada Union High School.
In conclusion, the consensus among these students is that reforms such as Senate Bill 419 are desperately needed, but that the fight is far from over. Many students interviewed support the replacement of cops on campus with behavioral counselors and eventually expanding these protections to all students across the country in order to promote tangible reform.