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Safe and Humane Schools Task Force Recommendations for the New Administration

Schools play a central role in communities. As prime settings of connection, development, and intervention for children and youth, they should be safe, reliable, positive, and inclusive. Our schools should attend to and support the development of the whole child. In addition to imparting knowledge and curricula, schools and teachers should foster student development, including critical thinking skills, intellectual curiosity, and socio-emotional skills, resulting in an informed, socially responsible, civic-minded population. Schools and teachers must be trauma-informed and culturally sensitive in order to respond to students’ needs and experiences. And it is critical that communities engage in this work building on community strengths in their support of schools. 

When we observe the current situation of schools in the U.S., we note substantial issues of inequity and social justice; these issues have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. From inequities in educational infrastructure, access and resources, disparities in educational opportunities (even within the same communities or districts), and disproportionate disciplinary practices, many of these issues stem from current policies and practices in place. The Safe and Humane Schools Task Force makes the following recommendations to the Biden/Harris administration.

Recommendations

  • Reinstitute guidance documents former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos revoked that had protected the rights of children with disabilities.
  • Reverse Betsy DeVos’ “school choice” policies, which have directed federal dollars away from many public schools that need it more.  Federal dollars should be used to strengthen our public school systems and their schools; efforts toward “choice” (e.g., private school vouchers, funds for home-schooling or private, religiously-based schools) dilute monies that could benefit a larger proportion of our population.
  • Extend public education to include universal, high-quality pre-kindergarten.
  • To receive federal funding for education, grantees must:
    • Use a culturally representative curriculum;
      • Culturally relevant education (Aronson & Laughter, 2016 – drawing on Gray, 2010 and Ladson-Billings, 1994):
        • Uses constructivist methods to develop bridges connecting students’ cultural references to academic skills and concepts; a culturally relevant classroom is inclusive of all students.
        • Engages students in critical reflection about their lives and societies; it is crucial to use inclusive curricula and activities to support analysis of all cultures present.
        • Facilitates students’ cultural competence – learn about their own and others’ cultures and develop pride.
        • Unmasks, exposes and confronts oppressive systems and challenges power structures.
      • Incorporate time for teachers/staff to be reflexive about (1) their attitudes and beliefs about other cultures and (2) their cultural frames of references; and provide time for teachers to expand on their knowledge about other cultures regardless of the diversity in their classroom (Rychly & Graves, 2012).
    • Use culturally responsive and competent approaches (monitored through impact statements at time of reporting);
      • Review of teaching math, science, social studies, history, and English Language Arts using a culturally responsive education framework (Aguirre & Zavala 2013; Aronson & Laughter, 2016; Johnson, 2011)
      • Review of teaching math using culturally responsive teaching – themes of cultural identity, instructional engagement, educator reflection, high expectations, student critical thinking, social justice, and collaboration (Abdulrahim & Orosco, 2020)
      • Include relationship-building among school, teacher, family and community (Farinde-Wu, Glover & Williams, 2017)
    • Increase mental health workers within schools; Professional standards recommend at least one counselor and one social worker for every 250 students and at least one nurse and one psychologist for every 750 students and every 700 students respectively. These staffing recommendations reflect a minimum requirement- 47 states and DC don’t meet these minimum requirements (ACLU report, 2019).
    • Integrate social-emotional learning (SEL) programs from pre-K to 12th grade. Considerable research documents the value of evidence-based SEL programming for a host of short- and longer-term outcomes, from improved academic achievement and more positive classroom behavior and interpersonal functioning to higher social-emotional skills and attitudes and multiple indicators of well-being (more positive social behavior; lower rates of emotional distress, conduct problems, drug use; see CASEL.org; Durlak et al.,. 2011; Taylor et al., 2017).
  • Invest in public school systems, especially those that have historically been underfunded.
  • Strengthen federal workforce development efforts to train, recruit, and retain high quality teachers and administrators, especially from groups not currently well-represented in education.
    • Expand Americorps and Teach Across America to focus on to align with a vision of safe and humane schools.
  • Review and update national standardized testing to reflect requirements that are inclusive of culturally representative curriculum.
  • Develop federal legislation that prohibits punitive punishment (suspension and expulsion) in pre-K and elementary schools and integrate restorative justice in schools.
  • Use research and evaluation to guide policy and decision making related to school safety.

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