SFUSD board approves measure favoring alternatives to suspensions

The San Francisco Unified School District unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday to reduce student suspensions for defiant behavior in favor of restorative practices, becoming the second school district in California to do so.

The Safe and Supportive Schools Policy commits the district to fully implementing restorative practices along with positive behavior intervention and support over the next three years.

“For us to pass this unanimously is a huge statement about our values, our commitment, our goals,” said Board of Education member Matt Haney, who authored the resolution.

In May, Los Angeles Unified School District board members voted 5-2 to ban “willful defiance” suspensions, becoming the first school district in the state to do so and acting on nationwide concerns that suspensions are detrimental and disproportionately affect minority students.

San Francisco’s policy includes a number of additional provisions, including a specific focus on providing more support for teachers removing students, said Laura Faer, statewide education-rights director for Public Counsel, the nation’s largest pro bono law firm for youths and families.

Among the more than 50 students and parents who rallied support for the resolution at the district offices was Downtown High School junior Francisco Craig, 17, who said he would get suspended “all the time” for talking back to teachers and not following orders.

“I feel good because the next generation of students, they’re not going to get suspended for stupid reasons like I did,” he said.

The SFUSD considers itself a statewide leader in using restorative practices over suspensions, which can intensify misbehavior and alienation, according to some studies. In 2009, the Board of Education adopted a resolution to begin implementing restorative programs districtwide and saw more than 2,500 educators attend trainings.

The systematic changes led to a 30 percent drop in suspensions throughout the district from the 2009-10 to 2012-13 school years.

Still, in 2012-13, black students, only about 10 percent of the school population, accounted for nearly 50 percent of suspensions and expulsions, and missed an average of 19 more instructional days per year than their peers, the district reports.

Under the new policy, suspensions will only be permitted in extreme circumstances and when behavioral discipline efforts have been exhausted.

The main challenges, according to board President Sandra Lee Fewer, will be funding and changing the longstanding belief that suspensions are the solution.

“I agree we as a district have been embedded in a culture of consequences and punitive measures,” she said. “[The policy] is very sophisticated, so this is going to take a lot of will.”