At 87 years old, Dolores Huerta is still a fierce activist. On Monday, the civil rights leader held a rally for youth in Bakersfield, Calif., calling for an end to harsh school punishments.
“We need to give students and teachers the resources they need to keep students in the classroom and end the school-to-prison pipeline,” the mexicana, whose Dolores Huerta Foundation organized the protest alongside the Youth Justice Coalition, said in a news release.
Demonstrators were showing support for SB 607, legislation passed by the California State Senate in May that prohibits the suspension and expulsion of students for willful defiance, which covers everything from back-talking, chit-chatting with friends in class to dress code violations.
The Bakersfield rally was part of a caravan from Los Angeles to Sacramento, organized by the American Civil Liberties Union, that aims to spread awareness, gain support from Gov. Jerry Brown and ensure that schools are following through with the discipline reforms.
“I’ve represented students suspended for breaking the dress code, dancing in class, humming,” said Amir Whitaker, an attorney with the ACLU. “We understand problematic behavior, disruptive behavior in the learning environment needs to be addressed, but that solution should not be depriving them of further education.”
While suspensions have decreased throughout the state, organizers are still stressing the impact of harsh punishments and how they affect students of color in particular. According to the demonstrators, resources would be better served by helping students who act out rather than scolding them and taking them away from an educational setting.
“Students are communicating a need through their behavior, so it can be a need for more support, more services, more attention or something else, but the need is not to deprived of their education,” Whitaker, who added that suspension and expulsion should be a “last resort in a tiered process,” said.
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