The Dolores Huerta Foundation’s focus within the education program is on organizing, training, and empowering parents to advocate for the rights of their students, including advocacy for lower suspensions, expulsions, and involuntary transfers, which are currently perpetuating the school-to-prison pipeline.
In 2012 DHF joined the Kern Education Justice Collaborative (KEJC), a network of South Kern partners supported by Building Healthy Communities South Kern (BHC-SK), as the lead organization in the fight to incorporate programs that will improve school climate, lower suspensions and expulsion rates and to create more support for at risk students (low-income, English learners, and students with disabilities).
Kern County’s Education Crisis
In Dec. 2011, the Center for Public Integrity reported that Kern County schools had the most student expulsions in all of California. Schools in Kern County reported 2,578 expulsions among a student population of 173,365. Astonishingly, in terms of raw numbers this was even more expulsions than Los Angeles County which had a student population nine times larger. (L.A. schools had 1,773 expulsions among a student population of 1,574,119.)
To make matters worse, expulsions affected minorities in a discriminatory way. Whites were 32% of enrollment and 22% of expulsions. Latinos were 55% of enrollment but 60% of expulsions. Blacks were 8% of enrollment but 15% of expulsions.
When asked to explain the inordinate expulsions, administrators responded by claiming it was done in the name of safety. Christina Frazier, Kern County’s Superintendent of Schools, said that students are “not being expelled for pushing and shoving . . . . it is really hard to look away when they’re bringing a gun or a knife or selling drugs.”
They also claimed that no one was complaining about the situation. “There has been no call for a change from students’ parents or the community,” said Brian Batey, Kern High School District Trustee. “No one is running for the board on a platform of keeping obscenity-spewing or drug-selling kids in school.”
In fact, serious violations requiring mandatory expulsion, such as, brandishing a knife or bringing a gun to school, constituted a minority of the offenses. The majority of expulsions were for offenses in which administrators had discretion to recommend a punishment other than expulsion, such as fighting, being intoxicated, or engaging in “willful defiance,” a highly subjective, catch-all, category that is so vaguely defined as to include any form of disobedience such as classroom disruptions, cursing, etc. Safety, therefore, was not the primary factor in such high expulsion rates. Rather, it is a zero-tolerance, law-enforcement-first mentality attitude to school discipline applied by administrators within school communities.
Kern County schools were clearly doing a disservice to a substantial percentage of their students by removing them from a path to graduate on time and to begin college or a career. Recent research shows that students who are expelled or suspended are more likely to dropout and/or go to prison. With an expulsion rate of 15 per 100, Kern schools funneled thousands of its students into the school-to-prison pipeline and made them more likely to end up in prison or on some kind of public assistance.
When the Dolores Huerta Foundation became aware of these numbers, we sprang into action. We partnered with “Families in Schools” to build the capacity of like-minded organizations through funding and technical support in order to engage parents, families and the public in the decision-making process.
In 2012, the Dolores Huerta Foundation partnered with Building Healthy Communities – South Kern (BHC-SK) to convene the Kern Education Justice Collaborative (KEJC), whose members include the Dolores Huerta Foundation (DHF), Faith in Action Kern County, National Brotherhood Association, California Rural Legal Assistance, Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance, and Children First. The Collaborative proceeded to develop a set of recommendations for the KHSD LCAP focused on ending the “school-to-prison pipeline” by improving school climate. The recommendations included:
- Implementing Positive Behavior Intervention and (PBIS) and Restorative Justice practices
- Creating parent centers with bilingual and culturally competent staff
- Eliminating the use of supplement and concentration grants to fund “security personnel,” i.e., campus police
What We Do
In addition to advocating for the above LCAP recommendations, the Dolores Huerta Foundation and the KEJC are involved in the following efforts:
- Grassroots Mobilization and Advocacy – Since 2014, the coalition has organized outraged parents to demand that their recommendations be implemented and that their input be incorporated in the LCAP. The coalition mobilized dozens of parents to attend public hearings held by the State Board of Education and ensured consistent parent representation at all KHSD Board meetings.
- Parent Trainings – The DHF has empowered hundreds of parents to become effective advocates for children in schools through intermittent parent trainings. Some of these trainings have been in partnership with local schools. The training’s curriculum is comprehensive and includes workshops on the rights of parents and students in the disciplinary process, the institutional structure of the local school district, and basic information about how schools are funded under the new Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). Consistent with the Foundation’s mission, we always train parents with an eye to transforming them into natural leaders in the community with agency and autonomy so that they might remain involved and continue transforming their environments into healthy communities.
- LCAP Advocacy – The LCFF legally requires all schools to collaborate with community stakeholders in the process of producing an annual budget for supplemental and concentration grant funds schools receive to meet the additional needs of students who are English language learners, foster youth, or low income (ELL, FY, LI). This budget, and its process, is known as the Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP). It requires all schools to seek input and engagement from parents. This new opportunity for parent engagement within the LCAP process has become one of the major areas of focus for DHF. Schools’ requirement to seek parent engagement in the LCAP process has created an opportunity for us to integrate our traditional and systematic organization of parents with the LCAP process, and to organize students and parents to advance educational justice reforms in their communities.
- Communications Strategy – Countering the establishment’s narratives through the strategic use of media is another plank in our efforts to bring about the adoption of alternative disciplinary practices. Fostering community support requires the strategic use of media—TV, radio, Internet, and newspapers—to educate the public about the concrete experiences of students, the outcomes of exclusionary discipline practices, different disciplinary alternatives, policy decisions of trustees and administrators, and current research. For instance, the idea that exclusionary practices are needed to keep schools safe, or that the “bad” students need to be removed so that the “good” ones have an opportunity to learn are examples of narratives offered by the establishment to justify the status quo. The Foundation works in partnership with other members of the Kern Education Justice Collaborative—and, specifically, with the BHC-SK Communications Team—to ensure that the public is aware of current events as they unfold through a network of media outlets, press conferences, opinion-editorials, and press releases.
- Integrated Voter Engagement – The DHF has built voter support for education reforms over the past 5 years by including an education component in its civic engagement programs and building a base of civically engaged leaders. They educate and organize residents and voters through house meetings, parent and student conventions, hands on parent trainings, and monthly community forums. Through our IVE work, we have identified 22,161 supporters that they talk to 2-3 times per year and engaged over 800 volunteers. DHF has organized multiple candidate forums in Arvin, Lamont, and Bakersfield with media and community partners.
Through our advocacy efforts in education, the Dolores Huerta Foundation has had an impact. Here are some of our victories:
- A lawsuit was filed in 2014 against KHSD to eliminate the discriminatory suspension and exclusionary policies. The lawsuit was filed by CRLA, GBLA, and Equal Justice Society on behalf of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, Faith in Action, National Brotherhood Association and individual students and families. The lawsuit showed that students of color were being suspended and expelled at an alarming rate compared to their white peers and that KHSD’s 2014 LCAP didn’t include a plan to support the implementation of PBIS and Restorative Justice. Although the lawsuit is still pending it has pressured KHSD to make significant reforms for the 2015-16 school year.
- As a result of our advocacy, KSHD’s 2015-16 LCAP includes $2.59 million for school climate and $1.18 million for parent engagement. In the 2014-15 LCAP, KHSD used $2.4 million of supplemental and concentration grant dollars to fund their police department. Due in no small measure to our spotlighting this misappropriation, in the 2015-2016 LCAP no s/c grant funds are being used for the police department. Rather, $2.59 million is being used to implement PBIS and Restorative Justice and hire 4 regional PBIS intervention specialists. Additionally, $1.18 million is being used for 8 new parent centers and parent workshops and programs.
- Dolores Huerta Foundation continues to empower parents by offering periodic trainings. The most recent is a 10-week training targeting Lamont parents in partnership with Lamont School District. The curriculum is comprehensive and includes sections on parent rights, school resources and programs available, English language learners and the reclassification process, the structure of the school district, responsible leadership, basic information about how schools are funded through the LCFF, and the LCAP Process.
DHF in the News
“‘I am change’ conference by DHF offers high school students lessons on how schools are funded,” 23ABC News, Jan. 22nd, 2015.
“DHF and partners hold successful youth summit for high school students to educate and empower,” KGET/17, Jan. 22nd, 2015.
“DHF sigue entrenando a los padres en cómo convertirse en defensores de sus hijos” Telemundo, Nov. 18th, 2015.
“20 Parents Graduate a Lamont Parent Training Facilitated by DHF in Partnership with Lamont School District,” KERO/23 Nov. 18th., 2015.
“Kern delegation looks to Vallejo schools for restorative justice model,” in South Kern Sol, Oct. 22, 2015
“Funds for low-income and English language learners misused,” in Bakersfield Californian, Sept. 22, 2015
“DHF’s Lamont parent conference heralds ten-week parent training on school funding and stresses parent empowerment,” KGET/17 Aug. 29th, 2015.
Parent Student Rights Handbook
What is PBIS and Restorative Justice?
PBIS is a system of discipline which aims to change disciplinary attitudes and approaches in teachers and administrators. The system is based on (a) a clear definition of behavioral expectations valued by the school community, (b) continually teaching students what the behaviors look like through concrete examples, (c) a reward system for students in compliance, and (d) a 3-tiered continuum of consequences for behavioral violations.
https://www.pbis.org/ – PBIS OSEP Technical Assistance Center
Restorative Justice, on the other hand, is a disciplinary method which focuses on changing the mindset of the offender by initiating a dialogue between the victim(s) and the offender. The offender is also required to confront the harms that are done to the larger community. During this process, the restorative justice circle, as it is called, is where all the parties come together to discuss the situation and attempt to redress the harms. Central to the idea of restorative justice is the idea of restoring balance in the community by redressing the harm done by the offender
https://www.rpiassn.org/ – Restorative Practices International Association
Education Resources and Websites