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Alianza Coachella Valley’s Community Justice Campaign has worked with parents and other community partners since 2014 to improve the learning experience and culture in Eastern Coachella Valley schools through the introduction of restorative justice, which seeks to address conflict and behavior issues through dialogue and a sense of shared community.
Throughout this time, we’ve celebrated the progress within Coachella Valley Unified School District, such as the launch of a pilot program at Bobby Duke Middle School in 2015, the end of a contract with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in 2018 that had placed officers in high schools, and the 2021 approval of wellness centers with counseling services for middle and high school students. Alianza Executive Director Silvia Paz is a CVUSD board member.
Our research shows that these efforts not only help keep students in the classroom by reducing suspensions and expulsions but also improve student-teacher relationships and make parents feel more engaged in their children’s education.
And now, following a string of concerning incidents, we are asking CVUSD leaders to renew their commitment and allocate more attention, resources, and funding toward restorative practices and mental health services. This approach will support students, their families, and district staff by addressing the underlying causes of discipline problems and only turning to suspensions, expulsions, and law enforcement when absolutely necessary.
“Based on what has happened recently in our schools, the importance of implementing restorative justice is as important as ever, and the urgency of practicing it correctly has to be done now,” said Sandra Ramirez, a CVUSD parent who leads the community group Coachella Valley Parents.
CVUSD could do more to support students’ mental health needs. Students who are part of Alianza’s Community Justice Youth Task Force and Youth Organizing Council say school wellness centers are difficult to access and their services are sometimes minimal. In the absence of information from the district about how wellness centers are being utilized, Alianza worked with students who surveyed their peers about the wellness centers and overall school climate. Survey results from more than 400 high school students showed many did not know about the wellness centers or how to access the services.
The full implementation of restorative justice at CVUSD means addressing conflicts with restorative dialogue to reach the root cause of issues. Behavior should be addressed as behavior and not criminal activity. Restorative justice, if implemented well, will address the reasons students feel compelled to bring weapons to school and prevent scenarios where calling the police is necessary.
Our coalition is encouraged to hear that CVUSD is taking steps to improve communications around campus safety and threats. However, we are disappointed that a few people within the CVUSD community want to bring armed law enforcement officers back to school campuses and reverse the progress made since the district first introduced restorative justice.
“Over-policing communities and school districts doesn’t mean a safer community,” said Alianza Campaign Organizer Brandon Ulloa. “Safer communities start with addressing the needs of our students.”
Research indicates that school police disproportionately arrest or cite students who are Black, Latino, LGBTQ+, or disabled and unfairly place these students into the criminal justice system, a process known as the “school-to-prison pipeline” that can impede a young person well into adulthood.
A 2021 report by the ACLU looking at the impact of police in schools across California found that a school with assigned law enforcement was 4.4 more likely than a school without assigned law enforcement to refer a Latino student to the police and 6.9 times more likely to arrest a Latino student.
Another study from 2018 looking at Texas found that schools that received additional federal funding to hire law enforcement officers between 1999 and 2008 experienced decreases in graduation rates and college enrollment.
And a 2018 U.S. congressional report looked at statistics on school police and expressed concern that police in schools may “result in more children either being suspended or expelled or entering the criminal justice system for relatively minor offenses.”
The tragic school shootings in Parkland, Florida, on Valentine’s Day 2018 and in Uvalde, Texas, last May show that police aren’t the answer to keeping children safe at school.
“To achieve justice for our youth and to provide them with the education they deserve, we must reevaluate the entire system: reimagining safety without police and school hardening measures, reinvesting in the positive supports that actually help our students, and fundamentally changing the culture of our schools,” the ACLU recommended in its report.
To learn more about restorative justice, visit www.alianzacv.org/restorative-
To learn more about the Alianza Community Justice Campaign, visit www.alianzacv.org/our-work/#