In the culmination of a a two-year campaign to implement the “School Wide Positive Behavior Support” (SWPBS) system at Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights, United Students (US), the youth led campus club of InnerCity Struggle, organized a successful “College Prep, Not Prison Prep!” rally on June 7, 2012.
SWPBS uses a Restorative Justice model that focuses on the handling of student behavior issues in a supportive and pro-active manner in order to increase graduation rates. Punitive, zero-tolerance policies lead to excessive suspensions and expulsions, and by failing to address the root cause of the issue lead to students dropping out of school unnecessarily. SWPBS is an alternative discipline approach that aims to create safer schools by not criminalizing youths and instead rewarding positive behavior.
The expectations are built around six traits voted in by more than 900 Roosevelt students as necessary for success — respect, intelligence, dignity, empowerment, resilience and support -– and include such specific behaviors as following teacher directions, waiting patiently in lunch lines and avoiding profanity.
Media coverage of and support for the movement was enthusiastic, although it should be noted that the new positive policy will not see the complete end of punitive suspensions. State law requires suspensions for students involved with weapons and drugs, but these account for less than 60% of such suspensions. Over 40% are instead imposed for ‘willful defiance’ and it is this response to transgressions such as failing to wear school uniform or talking back to teachers which the movement aims to end. Setting such students on a path to academic failure and future criminality by suspending them for a sartorial issue hasn’t sat easy with state legislators for some time. In 2007 the LA School Board issued directions to campuses to introduce positive behavior policies by this direction was never enforced and many campuses failed to do anything.
Ben Gertner, principal of the school of communications, new media and technology wanted to revive it after coming to believe that punitive responses failed to address the problem and often just made it worse.
Students also seem pleased by the new focus:
“I feel kids are being pushed out of school instead of being encouraged to come,” said Brizette Castellanos, a 15-year-old sophomore holding an “Education Not Incarceration” sign. “We need to talk to these students to find out why they’re acting out –- maybe they’re having problems.”
Eduardo Fernandez, 17, said he was suspended last year for arguing with his biology teacher over his failure to finish his homework and, at home, played video games all day. Although he enjoyed his day off from school, he said, he would have preferred someone to talk to him and calm him down instead.
His friends, Brian Medina and Aris Perez, both said suspending students only makes them fall behind in school and that assigning them community service, such as cleaning the campus, would be a better consequence.