07 Jun Restorative Justice Advocates Call for Resources
By Dayana De La Torre
The first time Daniel Madrigal met with the restorative justice counselor at Fremont High School, he had been kicked out of his 10th grade English class for disrupting instruction.
“Dr. Brady [the restorative justice counselor] sat me down and asked why I was so disruptive. That is when I actually broke down. I didn’t understand any of the material and I was embarrassed to ask for help,” recalls Madrigal, when he revealed his learning disorder to the counselor.
Because of stories like Madrigal, youth and parent leaders are calling on LAUSD to increase funding for full time staff to support positive disciplinary practices.
In 2013, LAUSD adopted the School Climate Bill of Rights. This policy included a ban on suspensions for acts of “willful defiance,” a catch-all category for disruptive behavior that was disproportionately pushing out Black and Latino students.
Before the policy, student suspensions for African Americans in LAUSD were on the rise. In 2011, Black students were three times more likely to be suspended than the district average.
‘Because of my restorative justice counselor, teachers worked with me and understood my learning disorder.’
The school climate policy also requires the district to shift toward restorative justice practices that support youth development instead of criminalizing youth for their behavior.
Earlier this year, L.A. School Report found that a dramatic decrease in suspensions throughout LAUSD was a result of the ban on “willful defiance.”
According to their findings, in the 2007-2008 school year a total of 74,765 days were lost to suspensions, while in 2014-2015 the number dropped to 6,221.
Board member Monica Garcia who championed the policy, says “systemwide, we see more graduation and less absences, expulsions, and suspensions. This is transformation.” But it will take more than banning suspensions to shift a district-wide culture on discipline.
The district claims that the policy currently operates at 150 schools, but Fremont is only one of 45 schools in the district that has been assigned a restorative justice counselor. The district claims that full implementation of the School Climate Bill of Rights is expected by 2020.
Students and parents are questioning why LAUSD leadership has yet to put adequate resources to expand full time restorative justice counselors to support teachers and administrator’s with disciplinary challenges in school.
Henry Perez, Associate Director at InnerCity Struggle, is skeptical of the district’s plan for expansion.
“Implementation can’t be one workshop or putting up a poster. Our schools need trained full-time personnel dedicated to School Climate.”
Ashley Franklin of the Labor Community Strategy Center says that it’s a matter of political will, “With only a $7 million budget dedicated to restorative justice and $60 million budget dedicated to school police, it is clear that the money is present.”
Without a restorative justice counselor, teachers would have simply kicked Madrigal out of class. Instead Dr. Brady created a plan to get him back on track.
“Because of restorative justice, teachers worked with me and understood my learning disorder,” Madrigal exclaimed. “I’m proud to say that because of my counselor, I will be graduating in June.”