‘Solutions Not Suspensions:' SF Child Advocacy Group Proposes Campaign to End School-to-Prison Pipeline

San Francisco nonprofit Coleman Advocates for Children & Youth has released a documentary proposing "Solutions not Suspensions" to end the school-to-prison pipeline. 

The 27-minute film was directed by Kevin Epps, creator of the acclaimed documentary series Straight Outta Hunters Point, and explores how San Francisco's high rates of out-of-school suspensions correlate with lower achievement scores, even with poverty and race factored in the mix.

Coleman Advocates suggests the implementation of "restorative practices" grounded in talking to the students and "healing the harmer" as well as the harmed rather than rushing to suspend or punish. The film interviews students, identified only by first name, who feel demoralized from being suspended for minor infractions — or for actions they didn't even commit.

A high school student named Xochitl breaks down and cries when recounting how she was suspended in middle school for eating an "unattended cupcake." She was not given the chance to tell her side of the story.

"There are certain things where it's okay to have a mediation or maybe it's okay to be suspended," she said, "but if you're just going to say it based on what you see and you don't know what really happened and you're not giving anyone an opportunity to explain themselves, they're just gonna feel horrible. They're not gonna want to go to school."

"We don't see the problem as students not knowing how to act or teachers not knowing how to teach or principals not knowing how to be principals, the problem is the institution following the same patterns it's always followed," said Kevine Boggess of Coleman Advocates in the film. "We've been suspending students since there's been school and that's just what people are used to and what we're saying is we have to reject that. The same way we don't hit students anymore in school, we don't need to suspend students anymore."

According to statistics in the film, "suspended or expelled students are five times more likely to drop out, six times more likely to repeat a grade, and three times more likely to have contact with the juvenile justice system."

The film points to El Dorado Elementary School in SF's Visitacion Valley, which reduced suspensions by 89 percent in 2014 thanks to the integration of trauma-informed practices.

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