YUC report on zero tolerance says policy has failed

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

The local student group Youth United for Change is pushing for revisions in the District’s zero-tolerance discipline policy. The group released a report in January, highlighting research that the policy has not made schools safer, is expensive, and involves the police in incidents that are not crimes.

"Students should be prepared for college; instead we are prepared for prison," said student and YUC member Brittny White in releasing the report, which was done with the Advancement Project, a national civil rights organization, and the Education Law Center.

The report said that students are often just "one minor mistake away" from being put on a path to prison instead of college.

The group is seeking public hearings and is hoping to get Gov. Tom Corbett interested in signing off on one of the report’s major recommendations – a "memorandum of understanding" clarifying the relationship with city police in dealing with school-based infractions that don’t rise to the level of felonies posing serious threats to staff or other students.

At a January 13 press conference to release the report, Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez called its recommendations "clear, thoughtful, and doable," and said she would hold public hearings "to make sure this becomes part of the public discussion."

State Rep. Tony Payton, calling the findings "striking," said the District should work to change the policy. Payton will also seek to hold hearings. He praised the use of "restorative justice," an approach to discipline that emphasizes repairing the harm done by the bad behavior and building relationships rather than simply punishing the perpetrator.

YUC is also working with Research for Action on an upcoming report documenting the District’s "pushout" crisis, in which students feel forced to leave school due to a hostile environment, classes that waste their time, and a culture that doesn’t value their experience.