This article has been corrected.
Mandatory and ongoing anti-racism training for all school personnel tops a list of recommendations from the Rochester Community Task Force. The training should begin with district leaders, the report says, and the task force should help pick who does the training.
The task force, which is made up of about 50 people including parents, teachers, administrators, and community leaders, was formed more than a year ago to improve student behavior and reduce suspensions, which have been disproportionately impacted students of color.
“It’s great that we got to this point, and now we can get to process [of implementation],” says Eamonn Scanlon, an organizer with Metro Justice, which is on the task force. “It’s a huge undertaking and not everything gets fixed at once. This will take years.”
The anti-racism training should include culturally relevant curriculum and instruction, the report says, to better engage students.
The task force also recommends creating a youth-led “Office of Student Life,” modeled largely after similar offices in higher education. The youth would be charged with setting a positive tone in each school building.
Suspensions, expulsions, and arrests should be used only as a last resort, the report says, and Superintendent Bolgen Vargas should personally review all long-term suspensions. Restorative justice practices should replace punitive measures, the report says, and the district should end suspensions for minor infractions such as using cell phones or violating the dress code.
Improving parent engagement and communication is another key recommendation.
“It is important that there be a true voice for parents," Scanlon says, "and part of that requires eliminating language disparities. Parents who don’t speak English often can’t advocate for their children.”
In some cases, students have been suspended multiple times because parents couldn’t explain underlying medical or mental health issues.
The recommendations were developed by two work groups within the task force and the recommendations are designed to complement the new draft Code of Conduct policy for students.
It is unclear how the long-term effort will be funded, and some teachers have expressed concern about what they see as a move away from discipline and rigor.
The recommendations are being forwarded to Vargas and the school board. Fifteen city schools have already initiated the shift toward restorative justice, Scanlon says.
"There's been a lot of sincere interest and focus on this," he says.