Give kids a chance to change

While we were doing our Start Strong work, we were also helping to improve Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) discipline policies, which had suspended and expelled a disproportionately large number of students of color over the years. The parents, educators, and staff who work with those students on a daily basis had witnessed overly harsh discipline policies push so many at-risk youth off the path to graduation.

As a result, when it came to working on dating violence in the District, we were all eager to find a way to hold students accountable for their actions—while at the same time avoiding unnecessary suspensions and expulsions.

Together, we worked to put in place practices for consistently and fairly identifying and enforcing appropriate consequences for unhealthy relationship behaviors. We also helped ensure that school staff had the resources to support and educate any offending students—giving them a chance to learn and change those behaviors. It’s so important to remember that these kids are young. Just because they make one mistake, that shouldn’t mean that’s who they are for the rest of school or their lives. If programs like ours do our jobs right and provide the proper intervention strategies and support to kids, they can change. We have to remember that.

Another important way we worked to keep kids out of the disciplinary system was to compel LAUSD to codify strong guidelines for violence prevention. Because as great as having fair policies in place for responding to bad behavior is, having good policies for preventing that behavior in the first place is even better.