Category Archives: Schools

Oakland ends suspensions for willful defiance, funds restorative justice

Reporting for EdSource, Susan Fray details Oakland Unified’s recent decision to eliminate the suspension category of willful defiance, maing them the fourth major California school districts to remove the controversial category. Willful defiance suspensions make up a large number of the total suspensions in public schools and have disproportionately impacted Black and Latino students across the state. In addition to this disproportionate impact, willful definance suspensions have been criticized for being a catch-all for a range of negative school based behaviors including not completing a homework assignment or talking back to a teacher.

In conjunction with this decsion, Oakland Unified has pledged to invest $2.3 million dollars to fund restorative justice disciplinary alternatives throughout Oakland public schools. Commenting on the Board’s bold move, superintendent Antwan Wilson stated, “If we are to ensure that success for Oakland children is not determined by cultural background or neighborhood, it means that we must build strong relationships with our students at school and invest deeply in restorative practices. This is about re-integrating students into the classroom rather than excluding them from learning.”

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To learn more about the restorative justice work underway throughout Oakland public schools, click here.

New York City preparing to expand restorative justice programs

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Jackie Schecter reports for Chalkbeat on New York City’s plan to expand restorative justice programs throughout public schools.

The head of the Department of Education’s Office of Safety and Youth Development verbally committed to provide new support for restorative justice programs at a May meeting about school discipline issues, according to two attendees. Though few details of the expansion have been finalized, the agreement represents the administration’s first step toward enacting discipline policy changes that Chancellor Carmen Fariña and Mayor Bill de Blasio have both called for.

Click here to read the full article.

Continued success of RJ in schools offers hope for the domestic violence field

Recently released data from the 2013-14 school year reveals that suspension and expulsion rates throughout California public schools continue to decline. This is the second year in a row that rates of suspensions and expulsions have dropped across the state. The report, released by the California Department of Education (CDE), notes that this downward trend has correlated with the implementation of innovative and non-punitive responses to classroom rule breaking. Such responses include the development and broad utilization of restorative justice programs.

Lisa Schmidt–a juvenile defense attorney who represents youth in suspension and expulsion hearings–contends that the results presented in the CDE report have implications that extend far beyond student discipline. For example, Schmidt highlights that schools with restorative justice programs not only report lower rates of suspension and expulsion, they also report marked improvements in other areas including graduation rates, absenteeism, and literacy.

Schmidt goes on to say that the efficacy of restorative justice programs lies in the core assumption that students’ problem behavior can be positively changed: “…restorative justice doesn’t simply remove a problem from the classroom. Instead it uses misbehavior as a learning opportunity, teaching students the consequences of their actions and how to make better choices”.

Implications for Domestic Violence Intervention

Here at the Center on Violence and Recovery (CVR) we remain committed to the idea that the theory of restorative justice (RJ) offers victims of violence and trauma efficacious ways of ending the violence that has plagued their lives. This includes victims of domestic and intimate partner violence. We are inspired by the diligent work of teachers, parents, and students in public schools across the nation who have fought back against punitive responses to school-based behavior infractions–responses which have wholly failed to address the identified problem behavior. The data released by the CDE should motivate all those who are passionate about the development of more effective and victim-centered responses to crime and wrongdoing.

CVR strongly believes that RJ theory and practice, when used properly, can increase victim safety, help survivors heal, and ultimately decrease rates of repeat incidents of domestic violence. In addition to working with survivors around their identified needs, RJ offers the potential to intervene with perpetrators in a meaningful way by holding offenders accountable for their actions and teaching alternatives to violent and aggressive behavior.

Our belief in RJ as a DV intervention stems from the encouraging research results of CVR’s National Science Foundation funded-study which indicated that RJ-based interventions for domestic violence can be both safe and effective with regards to preventing future violent incidents (Mills, Barocas, & Ariel, 2012). Published in 2012, the research found that when compared to offenders who had undergone treatment in a traditional batterer intervention program, offenders who in the RJ-based model, recidivated at significantly lower rates 12-months post random assignment. This research is currently being replicated in Salt Lake City, UT.

Coupled with the growing support that restorative justice programs are receiving in schools across the nation to deal with problematic, defiant, and sometimes violent behavior, these findings provide victims and advocates alike tangible hope for a violence-free future.

For more information on the exciting and innovative research work underway at CVR, please visit our website here

Full citation for the Center’s 2012 study: The next generation of court-mandated domestic violence treatment: A comparison study of batterer intervention and restorative justice programs. Journal of Experimental Criminology 9(1) DOI: 10.1007/s11292-012-9164-x

Combating the Suspension to Prison Pipeline with Restorative Justice

Jaisal Noor of The Real News Network recently sat down with high school senior, and organizer with the Dignity in Schools Campaign, to discuss the impact that zero tolerance polices have on youth in the Baltimore public school system. Murphy explains that there is a heavy police presence throughout his high school, but rather than increasing student safety on campus, Murphy contends that this over-reliance on law enforcement has decreased students’ perceived sense of safety.

“…it made me raise a series of questions, one of which was: is this school safe? Because the first thing that I do when I walk into a new high school is see a police officer. And so that made me aware of, like, do I–should I constantly be alert at all times here?”

In addition to students’ sense of safety being compromised, increased police presence combined with zero tolerance polices have led to sky-rocketing rates of suspension, primarily among students of color and students with disabilities. The New York World reports that during the 2012-2013 school year, New York City public schools dolled out 53,465 suspensions. The New York World reveals further, that more than half of these suspensions targeted Black students who make up just 27% of the student population. Special education students, who make up 12% of the student population, accounted for one-third of all suspensions.

Broken down by borough, Bronx students represent 51% of all arrests, suspensions, and tickets for school-related offenses, followed by Brooklyn (30%), Queens (11.4%), Manhattan (10.4%), and Staten Island (1.5%). A similar trend is found when this data is broken down by race: roughly 50% of all suspensions were of Black students, followed by Latino (33%) and white students (15%).

Pushing Students Out

Faced with this increasing criminalization of public schools and the student body, Jaisal Noor asks the following question: Are we preparing kids to go to jail, or preparing them for a future? Unfortunately for students, teachers, and parents the answer appears to be the former.

The United Federation of Teachers, which represents New York City teachers asserts that punitive measures such as suspensions should be the absolute last resort used to deal with student misbehavior, if used at all. The unfortunate reality however, is that suspensions are the first, and in many cases the only, tactic employed by public schools to deal with minor student conduct infractions. For example, the second most common offense leading to a suspension in New York City schools is “defying or disobeying authority”.

This punitive culture has led to the disturbing and increasing trend that high school senior Tre Murphy described above: namely, increasing reliance on law enforcement officials to handle disciplinary issues that take place on school grounds
. A complaint filed with the U.S Department of Justice this past Wednesday against Wake County, N.C., school district and law enforcement agencies contends that the district has failed to “stem the tide of students being pushed out of school into juvenile and criminal court systems”.

Huffington Post contributor Saki Knafo details how minor incidents of misbehavior in the Wake County school district—such as cutting in a cafeteria lunch line—have landed students in jail. As with raising rates of suspensions, this trend disproportionally impacts students of color and students with disabilities.

Combating the School to Prison Pipeline

The last few years have seen a strong push back by students, parents, and teachers against punitive responses to school disciplinary issues. Notable successes of this fightback include the recent decision of the Los Angeles Unified school board to ban suspensions for the act of “willful defiance”. This offense has been “criticized as a subjective catch-all for such behavior as refusing to take off a hat, turn off a cellphone or failing to wear a school uniform”. Students exhibiting disruptive behavior will no longer be suspended, instead, positive behavior reinforcement and other more effective intervention measures will be used. Indeed, current punitive practices which remove students from schools, and increasingly land them in jail, have been linked with decreased academic achievement and increased run-ins with law enforcement.

Advocates in New York City are hopeful that the election of Bill de Blasio as Mayor will usher in a wave of school-based disciplinary reforms, with a particular emphasis on restorative justice responses to student misbehavior. In June of 2013, de Blasio co-authored a letter calling on the city Department of Education to “expand the use of positive interventions and restorative justice practices, such as counseling, mediation, fairness committees, and restorative circles in lieu of suspensions, except when suspension is required by law”. Many New York City schools have already begun to implement such practices and, students report, they have had a positive impact on the student body. Bronx international high school junior and trained peer mediator Jessica Morillo states, “Let’s say we get into a fight…before we had the mediation program at our school, we would have never talked and gotten to a real solution. We would have just got each other suspended. I would be angry and you would be angry.”

Some within the city Department of Education contend that the costs of retraining teachers and hiring additional staff such as school social workers is too high and beyond the shrinking budget of public schools. Advocates however, disagree. Anna Bean of the New York City-based Teachers Unite asserts, “It doesn’t cost very much money. Just 1 percent of School Safety budget would fund all of this”. New York World reports that Bean’s comment refers to the $220 million that was spent in 2012 to keep unarmed NYPD officers in public schools. Thus, it appears that the difficulties associated with funding alternative disciplinary measures in pubic schools lies not with a lack of money, but with an unequal allocation of resources.

The advocacy and activist work carried out by concerned teachers, students, and parents is inspiring for anyone who is interested in the development of alternatives to current approaches to wrongdoing. In response to ineffective and harmful school-based policies, those who have been directly and indirectly effected are waging a vigorous fight against the continued criminalization and marginalization of youth within schools. With continued education on the pitfalls of the current system, coupled with the development of responsive, victim-centered solutions, 2014 is bound to see exciting changes in school-based disciplinary measures.

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Long Beach, CA Students use Theater to Promote RJ

Last week, as students rallied in front of the Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) the school board passed a resolution to encourage teachers and administrators to use alternative discipline policies in schools. The week before, students and community members came together to demonstrate what that could look like on a daily basis. Facilitated by the community theatre group, the Cornerstone Theatre, Long Beach youth presented “Tangle”– a play that revolved around problem-solving and conflict resolution using Restorative Justice (RJ).

Read the full story, here

Restorative justice message unites students

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Student activist Kylar Hughes, pictured above, is a member of ReThink, a citywide, schools-based restorative justice club.

“The restorative-justice approach is designed to foster communication and conflict-resolution skills among students, aiming to defang feuds and beefs before they escalate. Students gather in a circle to air grievances with an eye toward resolving them.”

Read more about ReThink and the movement to promote restorative justice in schools here

Interrupting Youth Cycles of Violence

More exciting news out of Oakland, California as Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth (RJOY) continues to challenge the use of punitive responses to youthful offenders! Watch below as RJOY members discuss the impact their Restorative Justice Project has had on Oakland youth, on incidents of violence, and on rates of reoffending.

 

Discipline Reform in NYC Schools

Hilary Lustick, a former high school English teacher in Brooklyn and current member of Teachers Unite, provides important insights regarding the discussion of punitive disciplinary measures in schools. Based on her past experience as an educator, in addition to information gathered through interviews with New York City teachers, Lustick contends that discipline reform is desperately needed and restorative justice offers a viable solution.

Just Restoration vs. “It’s Just Policy”: What Will it Take to Truly Reform School Discipline?

Students and Faculty Advocate for RJ in Schools

Students, teachers, and parents across the nation are demanding an end to punitive school-based polices which have led to shockingly high suspension rates among students–particularly among the Black and Latino student body. With the goal of eliminating the detrimental effects that suspensions have had on teacher-student relations, as well as on the educational outcomes for targeted students, Fresno Unified School District has voted to dedicate half a million dollars towards the implementation of restorative justice programs in their schools. Following this national trend, New York City students have begun to demand an end to punitive punishments and policing of youth in schools, advocating instead for restorative justice approaches to discipline.

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To learn more about the movement to implement restorative justice practices in New York City schools, click here

New York Times on the use of RJ in Oakland, CA schools

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High schools throughout Oakland, California are curbing high suspension and expulsion rates by responding to student misconduct with restorative justice circles. Eric Butler, the coordinator of Ralph J. Bunche High School’s restorative justice program, says that the use of RJ circles has created a desperately needed sense of community among the school’s student body. RJ circles have also offered frustrated educators an alternative to harmful “zero tolerance” policies.

Read more about this inspiring story here:

Opening up, schools transform a vicious cycle