Policy Brief

Policy Statement

With a focus on breaking the school to prison pipeline, Unite for Students calls on the San Francisco Board of Education and the Superintendent of Schools to focus on restorative justice over zero-tolerance; encourage parental involvement in schools; and ensure that all students have access to college and A-G counseling.

 Specifically, we call on the Board and Superintendent to:

  •  Build on the success of pilot programs replacing zero-tolerance school discipline policies with restorative practices, such as the one at Rosa Parks Elementary led by Principal Paul Jacobsen. After implementing restorative justice in the 2011-2012 school year, he reduced suspensions from 20 in the previous year to three.
  • Continue to closely monitor the implementation of restorative practices in the district and ensure that it expand beyond the pilot schools into more schools in the district and particularly those in the eastern parts of the city.  Make this expansion a budget priority.
  • Involve parents and students to a greater extent as restorative practices continue expanding in the district to guarantee the program’s success.
  • Closely monitor the collection and reporting of data on suspensions and expulsions to ensure the transparency required by the restorative justice resolution from 2009 is achieved.
  • Decrease the presence of law enforcement at schools by relying more on district-trained, and district-hired staff instead of School Resource Officers.
  • Facilitate more resources and tools for parents on how to start PTAs and PTOs in their schools, and encourage their development.
  • Dedicate appropriate time to staff development training for teachers on ways to involve parents more in their child’s schools.
  • Ensure that school officials/administrators are linguistically and culturally competent and sensitive to the surrounding demographic and are available to assist and encourage parents to become more involved in their child’s schools.
  • Equitably and fully implement the A-G requirements to ensure that all students have the necessary knowledge and opportunity to sign up for these courses and that they are eligible to apply to the UC and CSU systems.
  • Educate both students and parents about the importance of enrolling in A-G courses and the college connection by making it district-wide policy that all incoming freshmen attend an “A-G” workshop and all juniors complete an “A-G” checklist during their second semester.
  • Designate one teacher from every grade level at every high school, as the point-person for college related questions/guidance.

Restorative Justice (Over Zero-Tolerance)

The zero-tolerance approach is very much rooted in a dangerous and antiquated methodology of cause and effect—if a student does something wrong, the student is punished: student’s action + punishment = zero-tolerance. Indeed, the zero-tolerance approach seems to promote punishment as a means for raising awareness, in other words, the ensuing punishment will force a student to reflect on their actions. Unfortunately, this has not been the case. Instead of allowing students to reflect and evaluate the consequences of their actions, the severity of punishment under the zero-tolerance approach actually appears to perpetuate a lifestyle of crime by both magnifying a student’s first wrongful action, as well as by treating all actions—both minor and major offenses—as one in the same.

Whereas zero-tolerance places a higher emphasis on the punishment aspect of the formulation, the restorative justice approach advocates for a greater emphasis to be placed on the solution: student’s action + solution = restorative justice. While proponents of zero-tolerance may propose that the punishment is the solution, advocates of restorative justice believe that punishment is only concerned with making a student aware of his or her actions and not at all interested in the larger (and far more important) picture of a critical analysis of their actions. By allowing student’s to engage in a critical assessment of their actions, students are not only better equipped to truly understand the consequences of their actions, but they are also better situated from committing similar wrongful acts down the road.

In 2009, the San Francisco Board of Education passed a resolution endorsing the restorative justice platform, yet the resolution didn’t go far enough—by failing to require that all schools integrate the practice as an overall part of their academic agenda, the full impact of restorative justice yet to be seen. However, some schools did choose to incorporate the restorative approach, and the impact is evident in the data. During the 2009-2010 academic school year, SFUSD saw a decline in the number of students being reported truant, the number of students expelled, and in the number of students suspended (when compared to the previous four academic school year’s). While the effects of a few school’s voluntarily embracing restorative justice are clear, we must work towards significantly lowering the levels of truancy, expulsion, and suspension—and that can only be done by ensuring that restorative practices expand beyond the few pilot schools.

(Source: CA Dept of Education, Safe and Healthy Kids Program Office)

Parental Involvement

More often than not, students with parents who are actively engaged in their lives perform far better than students with unengaged parents. While there most definitely are parents who willfully neglect their children, the truth is that many parents do wish to be more involved within their child’s academic lives, yet are sometimes prohibited from doing so because of linguistic and/or cultural barriers. A good indication of existing linguistic/cultural barriers on behalf of parents can be found in their child’s ability to engage with the English language.

(Source: Ed-Data, San Francisco Unified School District, 2010-2011)

 For the 2010-2011 academic school year, 28.8% of SFUSD students were identified as being “English learners,” while 27.5% were identified as “fluent-English-proficient.” (Note: Our understanding of “fluent-English-proficient informs us that such classification is given to students who successfully pass an English proficiency exam). Whether “English-learners,” or “fluent-English-proficient,” it is clear that for 56.3% of SFUSD students, the English language appears to be a second language, which of course means that for over half of SFUSD parents English might also not be their primary language: an example of a linguistic barrier confronting many parents wishing to engage in their child’s academic well-being.

 (Source: Ed-Data, San Francisco Unified School District, 2010-2011)

 If we look at the breakdown of languages, we can see that both Spanish (12.7%) and Cantonese (10.2%) are the two leading foreign languages spoken by SFUSD students—and by extension, their parents. Having school officials/administrators who are linguistically and culturally competent and sensitive to the surrounding demographic is an important aspect for engaging more of SFUSD parents.

College Counseling

Successful completion of the A-G course load is a major component for admissions into the University of California/California State University system. If we look at UC/CSU eligibility data from SFUSD graduates for the 2009-2010 academic school year, we are able to see that both the Asian (67.7%) and White (57.3%) demographic account for the highest percentage of those who have completed the necessary courses for UC/CSU admissions (i.e., A-G courses). Among the lowest performing demographics are Pacific Islanders (11.4%), African Americans (28.7%), and Hispanics/Latinos (33%)—it becomes especially alarming when considering that Hispanics/Latinos represent for the second largest demographic within SFUSD enrollment, yet only one-in-three Hispanics/Latinos have successfully completed the A-G requirement. 

 (Source: Ed-Data, San Francisco Unified School District, 2009-2010)

 In order to close the A-G completion gap amongst the lower performing demographics, it is essential that we educate both students and parents about the importance of enrolling in A-G courses.



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  1. Pingback: Policy Statement « uniteforstudents

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