Building Walls Between Schools and the Justice System District Profile: Phoenix PXU Union (Ariz.)

Type: Case Study
Topics: Equity

May 10, 2023

Building Walls Between School and Justice System PXUA focus on a formal, structured reentry process and prioritizing early intervention.

A change in school board members during the 2013-2014 school year spurred PXU to start making changes in the district. The results of study sessions focused on disproportionality revealed that boys were being suspended at high rates and that Black boys were being suspended at triple the rate of other groups.

The district looked at what offenses it suspended for and if they made sense. Data-driven, it changed the handbook and started restorative justice practices, beginning its work with adults who would be most resistant to change.

District leaders piloted restorative justice practices in a school in the 2017-2018 school year. Although, many districts overly concentrated restorative efforts in the consequential side (decrease suspension rates), Phoenix focused primarily on a formal, structured reentry process. It had already begun this work through the utilization of behavior intervention specialists (who worked in the special education department).

In addition, student prevention specialists prioritized early intervention in poor behavior and literacy prevention metrics. Additional social workers were hired to meet students’ overall needs and community liaisons were responsible for manning clothing closets and food pantries.

District at a Glance

Located in Phoenix, Ariz., PXU was the only high school district profiled as part of this project. The high school district is made up of 13 elementary districts that feed into it and has 11 comprehensive high schools, four small specialty schools, three micro-schools, three support schools and a digital academy.

The district has 4,000 employees and covers 220-square miles of Arizona’s capital city. The most diverse city of those profiled, Phoenix students speak more than 100 languages and represent 50 Native American tribes.

Superintendent: Chad Geston)

Number of Students: 28,031

Demographics: 81.7% Hispanic; 8.3% African American; 4.4% White; 2.4% Native American; 1.6% Asian; 1.6% Other

District Type: Urban

Free And Reduced Meals Rate: 77.4%

SRO in District: No

Additional Resources

With funding from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, AASA profiled five school districts that are building walls between schools and the justice system, engaging in restorative practices, working to eliminate bias and disproportionality, and providing all children with fair and equitable access to high-quality opportunities.

AASA sought districts that worked intentionally to reduced school-related juvenile justice interactions where the superintendent and school system played a key role in changes to limit youth interaction with law enforcement, school-based arrests, and juvenile justice.

Each district profiled noted the impact that Covid-19 had on their efforts. While time out of school due to the pandemic posed challenges for everyone, it also provided districts with opportunities to make bold moves, such as fully embracing Social, Emotional Learning (SEL) and eliminating SRO contracts.

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