Young People’s Vision for Safe, Supportive, and Inclusive Schools

by Center for Popular Democracy; Urban Youth Collaborative; Make the Road New York; Katherine Terenzi; Roberto Cabañas; Kesi Foster; Sarah Landes

Oct 1, 2017

This policy brief provides a blueprint for safe and supportive schools. The young people who navigate interpersonal conflict in schools and experience harm due to harsh policing and disciplinary policies, are uniquely situated to lead the dialogue about developing truly safe and just learning environments. This report highlights priorities from the Young People's School Justice Agenda – the vision for safe, supportive, and inclusive schools developed by youth leaders organizing to transform their schools and communities. Supportive approaches to improving school climate are proven to be more effective at helping students address the root causes of conflict and reducing school infractions, thus actually creating safer schools than punitive policies such as suspensions and policing.

When young people close their eyes and think about what they need when they are feeling bullied, need to solve conflict, or want their learning environments to be inclusive, they do not imagine metal detectors and police officers. They imagine safe spaces where they can receive support from staff trained in social and emotional development. When schools allow students to lead efforts to transform school culture and climate, they develop fairness committees, expand peer mediation, build restorative justice teams, and create safe spaces where peers who feel isolated or bullied can build strong and trusting relationships. Students are changing the paradigm of discipline and punishment and advocating for schools to respond to the needs of all students, but especially the most vulnerable students, by pulling every student into systems of support and refusing to expand practices that treat them as disposable.