Kevin Epps' new film targets outsize black and latino student suspensions

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Photo courtesy of Kevin Epps and Coleman Advocates

A second grader recounts his school calling in the police to stop his tantrum. A young girl repeatedly suspended by her school lowers her head in sorrow. A community confronts a seemingly-violent teen who lost his way.

Kevin Epps' 2002 film Straight Outta Hunters Point pulled viewers through the painful churn of poverty in a historically black San Francisco neighborhood. In his newest film, Solutions not Suspensions, Epps shows viewers one systemic cause of poverty: kids who are suspended and sent out onto the streets, instead of embraced by their communities when they falter.

These students aren't only held back by each other, they're held back by their schools. Studies show African American and Latino students are disproportionately suspended compared to other ethnic groups, a topic we wrote about in our cover story "Suspending Judgement, [12/13]."

That's now changing, and Epps' film chronicles the efforts of Coleman Advocates and other youth groups to push the San Francisco Unified School District to implement Restorative Practices, a new form of discipline focusing on community-building as opposed to punishment.

The stakes are high. Though some argue students need punishment, the film (and Coleman Advocates) argue this is counter-intuitive. Suspensions don't heal wounds, don't address behavior, and exacerbate the school to prisons pipeline.

“I’m a troublemaker, I have a police record," one girl in the film says, talking about how her teachers and counselors no longer trust her. "They don’t care about me now.”

Restorative Practices are a new set of rules for handling conflict in SFUSD schools, calling for students and teachers in disagreements to enter into restorative circles to discuss their differences. One of the most powerful moments in Solutions not Suspensions puts you right in the middle of one teen's restorative circle.

A teenager sits in a room surrounded by teachers and his community. To his left is his crying mother, to his right is a man leading the restorative circle.

"I need for you to fall back a little bit from that man role in taking the lead," the man tells the teen. "Just be a young man. Enjoy this journey to being a man. One thing I know is you love that woman right there so much."

He points to the teens' crying mom. 

"I know you carry a heavy load sometimes," he says. "You worry about her, you worry about your family, and worrying about your family may be behind the decisions in life you made. But you’ve got a network of people. You’ve got to let us know about that load."

"You’ve got to tell us. You’ve got to tell us."

Epps told the Guardian that the teen had gotten into fights at school. He came from a broken home and his mother had troubles with substance abuse. The fight, Epps said, "was his cry for help." 

And that's the power of restorative practices, he said, it gives students help instead of sending them to the streets.

"Instead of suspending him they took him to the side," Epps said. "They said 'let’s talk about this.'"

Epps said Solutions not Suspensions has direct ties to his seminal film, Straight Outta Hunters Point, and its sequel. The kids suspended from schools, he said, were the same kids living in poverty and getting caught up in "mischievious things" in his other films.

"It’s a direct connection," he said.

Solutions not Suspensions premieres tonight at th San Francisco Public Library Main Branch, in the Latino room, at 6pm. Coleman Advocates will then host the film on their website for viewing, and announce a number of subsequent showings.

coleman

Comments

suspended from school more than whites and asians for the same reason that they get convicted of more crimes?

Because they cause most of the trouble?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 12, 2014 @ 1:03 pm

the National Crime Victimization Survey shows that blacks commit far more violent crimes than whites or asians IS that they are suspended more often in school and made to feel like criminals?

Posted by Social and Political Thought Virtuoso on Jun. 12, 2014 @ 4:22 pm

Liberals blame society for what is essence getting the shaft in the parent lottery.

For example, children having children could never be a problem?

or

Go to Foods Co and watch parents scream at their children for no reason, then blame the school system when these breeders produce common losers. I feel sorry for the children, raised by screeching underclass fatties with nice nails and hair, children who grow up to continue this class act.

Again the worlds losers blame the system for what in essence is people who make bad choices and continue the cycle of terrible and shrill parenting.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 13, 2014 @ 1:59 am

I see no evidence to support your excuse.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 13, 2014 @ 7:26 am

Adults blaming the child is one of the reasons they stay
in the cycle. It seems no one here knows how it feels to be told
they're failures. you need make the effort to participate in
raising great children.

If all races were represented on a level playing field, I'll bet you'll find we're all alike. You should be ashamed. I hope you don't have kids. You'll all be horrible parents.

There should be a law. xenophobics shouldn't be allowed to procreate.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 12, 2014 @ 8:26 pm
Posted by Guest on Jun. 13, 2014 @ 7:27 am

The only way that race should be considered a factor here is if black and Latino kids are being suspended for offenses that white and Asian kids are not being suspended for. Otherwise it's just the simple fact that black and Latino kids are committing more offenses than white and Latino kids.

Take for example what the girl said in the article: "I'm a troublemaker, I have a police record." Of course her teachers and counselors don't trust her anymore. It's not about race, it's about behavior. If you're a teacher with a limited amount of time and resources, are you going to focus more on a kid (regardless of race) who's a troublemaker or a kid who comes from a poor background, doesn't cause trouble, and wants to go to college?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 12, 2014 @ 5:17 pm

No mention of accountability on the parents' part. The story implies that if they're not in school, they're out roaming the streets.

Seems like this may be a good approach on the first offense, but if they've blown their "2nd chance", stop sinking resources into the future inmates that are needed by the kids who want to get a job or go to college.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 12, 2014 @ 7:41 pm

Instead of blaming the parents and holding them responsible for their unwise breeding habits, the school is held responsible.

When do the excuses run out on personal failure? It's not me, it's not my parents, its not that I hang out with fellow vermin, its society.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 13, 2014 @ 2:04 am

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