Answer to Montgomery High Altercation: Restorative Justice
by North Bay Organizing Project
Earlier this month, a violent altercation broke out on the Montgomery High School campus between three students. This incident, seemingly the product of interactions that had escalated over the course of weeks prior, resulted in one student dead, one injured and one lost to the justice system – and a county full of youth who are now posed with the question, who keeps us safe?
Mere hours after this tragedy transpired, a press conference was held, and School Resource Officers (SROs) were immediately presented to the fearful public as the answer. Despite the SRO’s attempt to take advantage of the narrative of the moment, and present their services as a sort of saving grace, many students and parents do not believe that SROs are the solution.
And they aren’t wrong.
Following the widely publicized murder of George Floyd in 2020 – a tragedy which arguably awoke our nation to the realities of police brutality and the power discrepancy between law enforcement and civilians – many cities and counties across the country began reevaluating the presence of police officers on school campuses. While the relationship between school administration and SROs was originally intended to create a safe learning environment for students, this program ultimately resulted in an increase in suspensions and expulsions – punishments which fell disproportionately on black and brown youth.
Evaluations conducted by the Santa Rosa City School Board revealed that nearly three times as many Latino students were suspended as whites, despite making up roughly equal portions of the population. Black students also faced punishment at an unreasonable rate, making up seven percent of school suspensions while only comprising three percent of student enrollment at the time. Per the review of these statistics, and weeks of community listening sessions and deliberation, the school board voted unanimously to suspend the SRO program in June 2020. Come November of the same year, the trustees voted not to renew their agreement with the Santa Rosa Police Department, and what had originally been a pause to the program ultimately resulted in its disbandment.
Three years later, in the midst of panic and uncertainty, some people are arguing to reinstate the same program, which has historically proven to be not only ineffective, but extremely harmful. This is being suggested even though the youth have come into the conversation prepared, taking part in community listening sessions and board meetings to advocate for the change which they believe will truly improve the safety of their campuses and the quality of their learning environment.
On Saturday, March 11, the Latinx Student Congress (LSC) (in collaboration with the North Bay Organizing Project) facilitated a leadership training for youth in which community organizers helped students to narrow down the most prominent issues on their school campuses, define their demands for change, and create a winnable plan. Students were asked to write the issues they felt were most pressing on a sticky note, and place them on a board at the front of the room. While participants responded to the group in a variety of ways, each response conveyed a similar theme. It became apparent that the recent escalation in violence among students is stemming from something much greater than a lack of policing. If we hope to prioritize the well-being of the youth, we must first ensure that the youth are well. Rather than investing their more energy and finances into SROs, students believe the schools should reallocate the money into services which focus on mental health, wellness, and restorative justice. for students.
The Restorative Justice Program, which began as a pilot program in 2013, utilizes the skills of restorative specialists to ultimately practice harm-reduction in schools by helping students to de-escalate altercations, take accountability, and maintain a safe and respectful environment. The implementation of restorative services have resulted in a decrease in suspensions and expulsions across the board, as well as reduction in racially disproportionate discipline practices. While this program has proven to be extremely effective, it has also functioned both undervalued and underfunded. Students believe that it’s time for this to change.
In coming weeks, the LSC will continue to gather the students and parents of Santa Rosa City Schools to assist in mobilizing and actualizing the change which they hope to see come to fruition. While a one-day meeting sparked these community wide conversations, the conversations will likely continue to take place for weeks and months to come. The youth have begun their research, they’ve defined their demands, and they are ready to be heard. Now it is up to the adults within the community (parents, teachers, and administrators alike) to listen. As students continue to gather and rally, walking out of class and marching off of their campuses while chanting, “Who keeps us safe?” we must reframe the question at hand and ask ourselves, “Who keeps us safe?” we must reframe the question at hand and ask ourselves, “will we – your friends, parents, educators, neighbors – do our part to keep you safe?”
Stay up to date on upcoming events, student-organized actions, and community trainings by following NBOP on Instagram also Latinx Student Congress and Value Life, Not Violence