Santa Barbara’s new schools chief, Dr. David Cash, announced at a public forum Thursday night that the current system of school discipline has been a failure and that he’s committed to a major overhaul, beginning later this year.
“It’s very clear that the school discipline model does not work and has not worked for a while,” said Cash, speaking to about a hundred people attending a forum at Franklin Elementary School. Organized by PUEBLO and Importa, the forum was billed as a venue for discussing the gang injunction proposed by Santa Barbara Police Chief Cam Sanchez and District Attorney Joyce Dudley. While Cash did not address the proposed injunction itself, he said the traditional method of disciplining students by excluding them from campus — either by suspension or expulsion — had serious problems.
“We know when we exclude students, the overall school environment does not improve, and it has an extraordinarily negative impact on the students and their families,” Cash said, adding that the district remains committed to providing a safe and secure learning environment for the district’s students. “Our goal is to change the culture at our schools,” he said, by relying more on mediation, counseling, parent-teacher conferences, “and by creating an environment where students feel empowered.” While Cash has been discussing this shift at school board meetings over the past month, school board member Monique Limon —who attended the forum — said he’s been focused on this practically from the day he took over from his predecessor, Brian Sarvis.
Cash described the new approach as part of the “restorative justice” model: “We will ask who has been harmed, what needs to be done to repair it, and who is responsible for fixing it.” Proponents of the restorative justice approach for juvenile offenders contend that it’s much more effective at producing safe campuses, and at dramatically less cost. In addition, they contend, the rate of recidivism is much lower.
While Cash provided no statistics to back up his claim, Limon said the board has been studying the matter for the past month and that various zero-tolerance and get-tough policies have had little impact. The numbers, she said, just keep going up and up. Cash said the restorative justice model was used in the school district where he previously worked — Clovis — and that he hopes to have a more definite proposal before the school board within the next few months. “I’m not here tonight to tell you about all the great stuff we’re doing because, quite frankly, we’re not doing enough,” he said. “If we were, we wouldn’t be here tonight.”
Cash was the evening’s clean-up speaker, following on the heels of former Santa Barbara city councilmember — and youth advocate — Babatunde Folayemi, who was scathing in his denunciation of the proposed gang injunction. “There is a war going on against your children and against your family in this community, and the gang injunction is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said. Injunctions, he said, “are basically a modern-day apartheid, creating prisons without walls.” He suggested that the Police Department might be eligible for more grant funding if it gets an injunction in place, but said injunctions are unnecessary. He said he personally was involved in brokering three truces between Eastside and Westside gang members during his 20 years working with gang members and at-risk teens. He urged those in attendance to organize politically and to make sure they understood their legal rights. To that end, Folayemi said he was starting a new organization — ”A Family Legal Clinic” — so people will know, for example, that they can deny police officers entry to their home if the officers lack a search warrant. He said Santa Barbara is criminalizing its youth, and that young people need to know not to provide officers with incriminating evidence.
Where Folayemi spoke with an anguished rage, UCSB graduate student and stand-up comedian Tomas Carrasco was more low-key in his delivery. If people want to really fight gang violence, he said, jobs and education were far more effective than law enforcement. “I’d rather be talking about the school-to-college pipeline than the school-to-prison pipeline,” said Carrasco. The best indicator of future success, he said, is school engagement. To that end, schools need to figure out how to better involve Latino kids who make up 67 percent of the elementary school population and half of secondary school enrollment. Studies show that Latinos and blacks tend to learn better in groups than as individuals; teaching practices should shift to exploit this opportunity. Teachers should focus more on what the students bring to the table than on what they lack and encourage students to believe the sky’s the limit on their achievement.
To better involve parents, parent-teacher conferences should be scheduled on weekends, rather than weekdays when both parents are likely working. “If you want to solve the gang problem,” he said, “the answer is jobs.” As for gang injunctions, he said, “They do not work. Over and out. And they racialize our community.” Far more effective, he said, were counseling, training, mental health, and jobs.
The issue of the gang injunction has come up in many of the candidates’ forums, and three of the four candidates who oppose the proposed injunction — Cathy Murillo, Sebastian Aldana, and Cruzito Cruz — showed up at the forum. Iya Falcone, who also opposes the injunctions, was not there. None of the candidates favoring the measure were on hand.
CORRECTION: According to candidate Sharon Byrne, she was in attendance for this forum. We apologize for the omission.