Students pushing for a restorative justice program for Fresno Unified schools implored trustees Wednesday night not to wait to reform discipline policies that they said are too harsh and lead to students dropping out of school.
"The discipline policy you have is really not helping -- it's just killing our students right now," said Kevin Shelton, a Bullard High graduate.
Students are suspended over small conflicts, such as dress code violations and speaking on cell phones, Shelton said.
"Keep the students inside the classroom," Shelton said, asking trustees to create a restorative justice policy. Restorative justice focuses on conflict resolution and other means for keeping students with behavior problems in school rather than removing them.
Board President Valerie Davis told the audience that trustees will discuss discipline policies at an April 10 workshop.
Parents and community members also addressed the board about discipline reform.
Bob Mitchell, a community activist, said high suspension rates for black, Hispanic and Asian students were cited last year as concerns by the Graduation Task Force.
"There must be a change in the way you are doing business," he said. "How much longer must we wait?"
Willie Lopez, a grandparent, said the district's discipline policies failed an adult son and asked trustees to change them in time for his grandchildren. "I'd like to have them to be given the opportunity that my son ... did not have."
About 30 young people packed the board room from Students United to Create a Climate of Engagement, Support and Safety (SUCCESS), a youth organization that has spent about two years studying dropout rates at Fresno Unified and ways to keep students in school and graduating.
Jane Carretero, 14, said she was suspended in eighth grade and is now being home-schooled.
She asked trustees to give students second chances.
MaryJane Skjellerup told the board that youth want to see that "restorative justice will be values you carry out." Skjellerup is senior director at the Youth Leadership Institute, a youth development organization.
Outside the meeting, Sarah Reyes, a former state Assembly member and now program manager for The California Endowment, said this was the first time trustees had heard from students about the effects of discipline policies. "I hope the school board will listen."
Sabina Gonzalez, representing Community for a New California Education Fund, said trustees had received emails from 400 people asking for restorative justice.
Later in the meeting, during budget-planning discussions, trustee Janet Ryan said she wants the district to make sure money is available for any changes that are made to discipline policies. Funding for discipline plans will be part of the discussion at the April workshop, she said.
In other action:
On a 6-1 vote, with Bullard High area trustee Michelle Asadoorian objecting, the trustees approved paying $36,778 to MGT of America to do a high school facility assessment.
The study was part of board action taken last month about Bullard High School's master plan. The board approved the plan but limited construction to classrooms until a study could be done of high school facilities throughout the district.
Bullard parent Eric McCormick asked trustees to postpone voting on the study and to instead allow the Bullard master plan to be completed. Trustee Asadoorian said she had been "inundated with calls" and all were "more than distraught" by the board's action in February.
Ryan said the board decision did not take anything away from Bullard. "It's all going to be built, just not all at once."
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