Open Letter to Superintendent Carvalho Power U Youth call for Restorative Justice now!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Dear Superintendent Carvalho,

We submit this open letter, on behalf of all the Power U youth from across Miami Dade County, to you, the School Board, and the rest of the District’s staff. We also hope that this letter reaches community members, organizations, activists that want to see social justice and care about the future of Miami Dade County Public Schools and the students that it serves.

Through conversations with fellow Power U youth activists, students have told us that they need restorative justice because it is the key to producing better classroom management, safe schools that set us up for success, a dismantling of the School-to-Prison Pipeline in Miami-Dade, and a school district where the color of our skin doesn’t dictate how we are treated.

This is incredibly important because we know that Black students are the only population that continues to experience suspension rates disproportionately higher than their enrollment in Miami-Dade. Last school year, Black girls comprised less than a quarter of the overall girl population, but made up a third of in-school suspensions and over half of out-of-school suspensions. This makes them 6 times as likely to be suspended as their white counterparts. It remains to be seen whether the “success centers” often mentioned by Superintendent Carvalho will change the disproportionate impact of discipline policies on Black students and their ability to receive a high quality education. Success centers may be a better option than sending students home, but our ultimate objective must be to come up with a system to keep students in their schools. We are concerned that without an alternative like restorative justice that addresses root causes, the success centers will reflect the same racial disparities as previous suspension data.

If the District is sincere about #RethinkingSchoolDiscipline in Miami, then the District must address issues at their root. Students need action on the school discipline crisis in Miami. We do not have time for Band-Aid solutions or pandering promises. We deserve healing justice and accountability.

After years of organizing, meeting with District representatives and urging your support for restorative justice, the District has yet to hire a practitioner for the two pilot schools – Cutler Bay Middle School and Brownsville Middle School. We expected the pilot to begin in the beginning of this school year and are deeply disappointed by the lack of progress. Successful implementation at the two pilot schools is critical to ensuring the expansion of restorative justice to other schools across the District.

If we want to build a school community where educators, students, parents, and community stakeholders work together towards the same goal of uplifting young people and setting them up for success, then we need to mirror that in processes like this one.  Our community deserves transparency, and students need to be taken seriously on this urgent matter. With that in mind, and with a second RFP expected to be released early 2016, we call on you and the District to take the following actions by March 1st, 2016 in order to make this endeavor a success.  

1. FUND THE RESTORATIVE JUSTICE PILOT PROGRAM TO ENSURE SUCCESS

$50,000 is simply not enough to successfully implement a whole school approach on two school campuses. This school year, the district is spending over twenty million dollars on school police. In fact, a single police officer is three times the cost of what is currently budgeted per school building to implement restorative justice. While we are happy to see the expansion in scope from one to two pilot schools, the funding must also be increased to ensure this program’s success.

2. COMMUNITY REPRESENTATION ON THE RFP SELECTION COMMITTEE

The selection process should reflect the practice we want to see in our schools, one in which parents, youth, educators, and administrators are working together towards a common goal of seeing all students thrive. The selection committee should include at least one invested community representative to model this collaboration and to hold the process accountable to the population it is supposed to serve. In addition, information on the progress of the RFP should be shared with the broader community in a transparent and timely manner.

3. A PRACTITIONER WITH A PROVEN TRACK RECORD OF IMPLEMENTING WHOLE SCHOOL APPROACHES TO RESTORATIVE JUSTICE

Miami Dade County Public Schools is the 4th largest school district in the country. Implementing restorative justice, with full integrity and fidelity to its core principles, is not only important but necessary. This means that we need a practitioner who is well trained and has experience with implementing a restorative justice-whole school approach. Now is not the time to quibble over where the training institution is based. We must prioritize experience working with community members, students, parents and teachers to facilitate trainings that can transform school climate.

4. SUPERINTENDENT CARVALHO: MEET WITH STUDENT LEADERS FROM POWER U QUARTERLY TO UNDERSTAND THEIR EXPERIENCES IN SCHOOLS AND WORK TOGETHER TO DISMANTLE THE SCHOOL-TO-PRISON PIPELINE

The District and the Superintendent have made a commitment to students, to this community, and to the country that Miami-Dade wants to lead the way on dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline. If you are serious in this endeavor, students’ experiences and expertise have to be a central to that process. Power U youth leaders will hold a quarterly meeting where we can share the most vital of data: our lived experiences as Miami-Dade Public School students. We also expect regular updates on progress the District is making towards improving school climate, racial disparities in school discipline, and outcomes for young people like us. Nationally, school leaders such as the Superintendent of Denver Public Schools are already holding regular meetings like this. As a leader, you must acknowledge and uplift the leadership of directly impacted Black and Brown youth, students, and parents who want dramatic, transformative change in their schools. Agreeing to these quarterly meetings is the first step.

As students who attend Miami Dade Public Schools, we know that our community is ready for restorative justice and can wait no longer. We want restorative justice to be fully implemented because we know that it works. We know that instead of suspensions, expulsions and arrests, we students will be able to build healthier relationships with teachers, administrators and our peers. We hope that you share in this vision and will work with us to bring about the transformative change that is deeply needed in our schools.

Thank you,

Signed Power U Youth