Counselors Not Cops – Equity For Youth, Now!

Equity for Youth Now!

During this year’s National Week of Action Against School Pushout, we stand with parents, caregivers, and youth who are advocating against school push-out.


Angela McNair Turner

A little over a year ago, on September 9, 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB 419 (Skinner) to address the overuse of suspensions for minor and subjective misbehaviors. Young people spoke up and spoke out about being suspended from school for things like chewing gum, forgetting homework, talking back, and wearing sweatpants. These students were suspended under Education Code 48900 (k), a broad and subjective catch-all category commonly known as “defiance/disruption.” Suspensions for “defiance/disruption” contributed to racial inequality in California schools. SB 419, which went into effect July 1, 2020, permanently eliminated defiance/disruption suspensions for students in grades 4-5, and eliminated defiance/disruption suspensions for students in grades 6-8 through July 1, 2025.

Young people, parents, organizers, and advocates celebrated the moment Governor Newsom signed SB 419. It felt like a palpable shift in the long-standing movement to address the harmful overuse of suspensions and end the disproportionate school removal of Black students, Latinx students, other students of color, and students with disabilities. Well before any of us knew the term “school to prison pipeline,” parents, grandparents and other family caregivers were defending their child’s right to an education and their right to participate in it. The signing of SB 419, while not a pancea, was a victory for everyone interested in schools that strive for equity and seek to honor students’ dignity in schools. Of course, we did not know then that the very nature of schools would be upended right before SB 419 was to become effective. We did not and could not foresee the COVID-19 pandemic or emergency remote schooling or the long overdue uprisings demanding racial justice and equity. What does SB 419 mean now, in a world we could not have imagined last fall?

During this 2020 National Week of Action against School Push-Out, we stand in solidarity with youth, parents, organizers and other advocates around the county. We, as members of the National Dignity in Schools Campaign, demand that schools stop the arrest, in-person and remote school removal and pushout of Black students, other students of color, LGBTI youth, students experiencing homelessness and youth with disabilities. It is no coincidence that this demand closely mirrors the National Dignity in Schools Campaign demand from our 2019 Week of Action: “Stop the arrest, school removal and pushout of Black students, other students of color, LGBTQI youth, homeless students, foster youth and students with disabilities.”

Countless things about schools and the nature of education changed overnight this spring. Unfortunately, even in a world where many students do not set foot on a physical school campus, school push-out is still a present threat. The roots of school push-out: anti-blackness, the adultification of Black children and Youth, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, other forms of conscious and unconscious bias… all of those things find their ways into the classroom whether the classroom is a physical space or a virtual one. To address school push-out, we have to cut away at these very roots. Taking aim at highly subjective, vague categories for school discipline is one way we can stop school push-out and eliminate the school to jail track.

Last year I said, “[n]o student should be set back in their education for something as minor as chewing gum or talking in class.” That is still true. In fact, it may be truer than ever. Students are striving and surviving and showing up in the face of what psychologists have identified will be an adverse childhood experience for every child and youth in our country. Students are in their physical and digital learning spaces combatting the digital divide, the collective trauma of this global pandemic, and an ever-present grief for Dijon Kizzee, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and too many others.

When children and young people show up, grown-ups must show up too. We have to find non-punitive ways to meet the student with their head down, the student who misses their friends and is finding connection in the chat box at a seemingly inopportune time, the student playing with a toy, and the student falling asleep. Instead issuing a formal out of school suspension, students are being sent to break out rooms alone, told to log off, or worse yet, told not to log back on the next day. There have been cases around the nation of young Black boys being criminalized or punished for the presence of a toy gun or BB gun in their own homes. If our classrooms are virtual and we shut a student out of them, that student is being denied educational access, irrespective of whether we send a formal suspension notice to their homes. The methodology of school push-out and criminalization has adapted but the message is the same, “we don’t want you here.” For students who are already overcoming seemingly unsurmountable barriers to show-up, that is not a message we can afford to send.

As we rethink education, equity, and access during this unprecedented moment, it is impossible to continue ignoring the inequities embedded in our existing schooling models. We must confront the deep and pervasive roots of school push-out head on. We must refuse to resort to punitive discipline practices for minor misbehavior. We must continue to support and resource restorative practices, School-Wide PBIS, trauma informed schools and other alternatives to exclusionary discipline. We must comply with both the letter and legislative intent of SB 419. We must honor families as collaborators in the education of their children and youth. We must finally acknowledge that our students deserve #counselorsnotcops and #EquityForYouthNow.


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