Alianza and Advancement Project California conducted a case study focusing on Alianza’s efforts to transform the school climate of the Coachella Valley Unified School District (CVUSD) through the parent-led Restorative Justice Campaign. The study highlights the successes of Alianza’s leadership development model by shedding light on how the campaign changed systems, improved the relationship between parents and district officials, and led to personal transformations for parent leaders.
“We are no longer at peace. We have a constant urge to change conditions and systems.” — Alianza parent leader
What Is Restorative Justice?
Restorative justice in schools uses dialogue as a proactive practice to prevent conflict and as a response to conflict and disciplinary matters. Instead of suspending, expelling, or citing youth on campus, staff and students rely upon restorative justice practices that involve asking students to take responsibility for their actions, helping the harmed person heal, and involving the wider community to prevent a recurrence of the behavior. [Read more about restorative justice]
Throughout the multiyear Restorative Justice Campaign, Alianza’s leadership model provided parents with the necessary tools to increase restorative justice investments and bring about change in CVUSD. By building the leadership capacity of parent leaders, Alianza helps change institutional and community conditions, and build towards structural and then transformational change. The leadership development model includes three core areas of activities that parents participate in throughout the year: direct leadership development activities and trainings, community outreach and base building, and advocacy with decision-makers.
Leadership trainings, which have continued since the onset of the campaign in 2014, build parents’ understanding of restorative justice and make them experts. Trainings also build parents’ awareness of systemic issues in the school district and create a foundation of knowledge for engaging with the broader community. Parents often credit the trainings for building their confidence and motivating them to overcome challenges in their advocacy work.
Since 2014, parent leaders have engaged the broader community through outreach and activities that build community support for restorative justice and create new parent advocates. These activities not only connect new parents to the campaign and Alianza’s programming, they also contribute to parent leaders’ own development. Parents credit the engagement and witnessing changes in their peers as important motivators for persisting in their advocacy.
Parent leaders strategically engage in multipronged advocacy with decision-makers and administrators to gain support for restorative justice in the school district. Parents cite advocacy as the most challenged aspect of their leadership development, as it is where they encounter the most resistance and doubt. However, parents also acknowledge that advocacy directly helps change narratives about parents in the district.
School District Changes
- Restorative justice as policy and practice: In the year immediately following the launch of the parents’ advocacy, CVUSD started incorporating restorative justice into other district positive school climate strategies and trainings for staff. In 2016-17, the district made concrete investments in restorative justice for the first time and launched a Restorative Justice Task Force to oversee implementation of these practices. These and other investments mark significant victories for parents and Alianza.
- Parent voices at the table: Relationships between parents and the district have transformed since 2014. Over three in four parents now say the district has improved how well it treats parents with respect, listens to parents when making decisions, and communicates opportunities for parent involvement.
- Discipline: Since 2014, the gap between middle school and high school suspensions has decreased and suspensions for willful defiance have dropped. Overall, middle schools have shown promising results having started using positive discipline practices over zero tolerance policies. By 2018-19, CVUSD middle schools suspended zero students for willful defiance compared to 2.8 percent of students in 2013-14.
- Relationships: Parents now report more respectful, caring relationships depending on the degree of restorative justice implementation. Prior to restorative justice, parents described teachers as being uninterested in students or as not caring about their success. Parents also now report witnessing better relationships and trust between students and teachers.
Changes in Parent Leaders
- Confidence, Knowledge, Leadership: Alianza parent members are remarkably engaged and confident in their ability to advocate for their children. The majority feel confident interacting with their children’s teachers and with school staff and administrators. Nearly all parents know of resources to advocate for their children or believe they have the power to achieve a change in their child’s education
- Engagement and Advocacy: Being a part of Alianza’s leadership development model has increased parent engagement in the district. In surveys, about three in five parents reported they started attending district meetings or LCAP meetings only after getting involved in the Restorative Justice Campaign. More than half of parents began recruiting other parents to make changes in their children’s education.
- CVUSD should dedicate a steady and sizable stream of its annual LCFF Supplemental and Concentration funds to restorative justice efforts and create greater transparency in its account of how funding is spent.
- CVUSD should establish restorative justice as the new culture across the district by setting expectations for staff and communicating the benefits to staff who may still question the merits of the program.
- CVUSD should invest in parent leadership development and create time for authentic community engagement. Authentic communications between parents, school staff, and administrators is key to sustaining parent involvement.