Restorative Justice Legislation In Delaware Would Decrease Suspension Rates & School To Prison Pipeline

s-to-p-suspensions

This legislation hasn’t even been filed.  It was sent to me anonymously.  I have very mixed feelings about this.  There are many things kids are suspended for and probably shouldn’t be.  But to limit suspension rates over bodily injury, threats of bodily injury or death but not in self-defense, or bringing weapons to school.

What about racial epithets?  Or swearing at a teacher?  Or throwing furniture but not causing bodily injury?  Or making sexually suggestive comments to a student?  Those are all things that would have given me a ticket home when I was in school.  Bullying isn’t addressed in this unless it is physical.  If we have zero tolerance for bullying under any circumstances why isn’t this included?

What if a student abuses the new system?  Continuously?  My fear with this type of bill is students trying to get out of class and knowing they won’t be suspended for it.  As well, if a student gets in-school suspension, the parents should be notified right away.

Perhaps the biggest part of this bill concerns students with disabilities.  Under the federal IDEA law, a manifestation determination hearing must be held if a student is suspended a certain amount of time.  If the student isn’t suspended but still showing the behavior that would have caused the suspension prior to the implementation of this law, how can an IEP team have the manifestation determination hearing?  The purpose of these is to develop a Behavior Intervention Plan after the school psychologist develops a functional behavioral analysis.  That is federal law.  State law does not trump federal law.  But if the state does away with the catalyst for the federal law, isn’t it essentially taking away rights for students with disabilities?  And does restorative justice replace what is in a developed IEP?

I’ll be honest, restorative justice wasn’t around when I was a kid.  Maybe it is great.  But is it known to work?  In my opinion, all the restorative justice in the world is not going to cure what comes in from a home environment.  If a student comes from a broken home or violence, it may temper the behavior but it doesn’t get rid of the outside of school problems that could be a very big reason for the behavior.  I would caution our legislators on passing this bill as written.  There are too many factors at play here that haven’t been looked at yet.  Which could be why it wasn’t filed yet.

Restorative Justice came about in prisons.  I have no problem with anyone making amends.  But it is for criminal behavior.  By using this in schools, are we making some issues bigger than they  are?

On the other hand, this law would reduce many suspensions that are completely unnecessary.  When I hear about the reasons some kids are suspended, I shake my head.  But then again, sometimes suspensions dealing with weapons brought to school could be seen as overreaching depending on the circumstances.  We need consistency but we also need common sense.  There are never easy answers.  But I would love to hear your thoughts on this.  Keep in mind, this bill hasn’t even been filed yet.

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5 thoughts on “Restorative Justice Legislation In Delaware Would Decrease Suspension Rates & School To Prison Pipeline

  1. Ok here we go!

    First and foremost, a disclosure: The ACLU published an article I wrote in support of restorative practices in schools. I’m a believer, although still on the skeptic side, because in an extreme case the process was insanely effective, beyond my capacity for belief. Which is why I’m still a bit of a skeptic, because this whole restorative thing seems far-fetched. I’ll also openly say it does not work 100% of the time, for a variety of reasons.

    The first request I’d make, and the request I’ve been making for probably close to 2 years now around this issue, is that we separate out the suspense rates for the low-level offenses (dress code violations and the like) given at charter schools versus traditional public schools. The statistics, especially for Delaware, are very misleading and make it seem as though schools are suspending kids willy-nilly for a variety of really unnecessary reasons. Then we can have a real discussion about suspension rates.

    Secondly, this legislation must not be yet another unfunded mandate. If the general assembly is serious about having educators trained in appropriate use of restorative practices and they want to see this be successful, they must budget funding for training and have it run at the state level. They must also mandate that the training include annual refresher sessions for experienced educators and complete training for novice educators. In order for this to really take root and be effective, it must be a systemic and widespread program that students know will happen everywhere they go, at least in Delaware. In order for THAT to happen, the training must happen at the state level, similar to the child abuse and reporting, gang, and bullying trainings. NOT similar to the child abuse and reporting, gang, and bullying trainings, however, this must be done in person with groups of educators, and it should include facilitated role plays and educator testimonials.

    It’s probably not a good idea to be overly prescriptive about what things schools can suspend kids for. The schools that want to maintain the integrity of their locally-developed codes of conduct will just code the offenses differently wherever possible, and I could see the backlash and lobbying efforts against this bill being huge for just that segment. If the purpose is to help LEAs develop better strategies for working with youth, there should be a statewide code of conduct along with annual training (initial and ongoing for the various experience levels and identified needs of educators) on classroom management strategies, cultural competency, trauma affected schools, positive behavior supports, and the impact of poverty on the brain.

    I’d also like to hear discussion around the social services and mental health support in tandem with this legislation. When students are removed from the classroom for severely disruptive behaviors, they cannot just go to a cool down room for 10-15 minutes and then return to the classroom without addressing the root causes of the behavior. This is an area where the needs of the students who have special education supports can be identified and addressed. However, that cannot happen without the (funded) mandate that social and support services be more integrated into the schools. The teachers alone cannot carry the burden of restorative practices; it must be a communal process shared across the entire educational facility.

    One final note: When a student uses inappropriate language (swear words, racial slurs, other derogatory terms), often there is an underlying issue that can be addressed with systemic teaching of expectations. Educators must put aside their personal feelings about terminology to enforce the expectation that no language of certain types will be used in the school, and we must train the students on self-awareness (yes, some kids curse without even realizing it, and some terms are so ingrained in our culture that kids don’t realize they are inappropriate or derogatory). If we do not want them to say “that’s retarded” or “you’re gay” (“no homo” is one that particularly riles me up, because why does a young man need to clarify a compliment to another young man by stating that he is not a homosexual?) then we need to give them alternate terms to use, and that needs to happen on a very widespread basis. It would help if adults didn’t do it, but changing American culture is much more difficult than enforcing an expectation of school language and behavior.

    Thank you for posting this. I’ve been closely following work around the introduction of restorative practices in Delaware, and although I was unaware of this pending legislation, I’m excited to see that someone has picked it up and run with it. This can be an effective method of helping students understand the consequences of their actions (which doesn’t always happen in the home or community, mainly because our kids are often not in the presence of adults for a variety of reasons that are worthy of their own post) as well as help the educators better understand their students and how to support their students. That’s what it’s all about, right?

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    1. To clarify, this legislation has NOT been filed yet but the date on the PDF is 2/29/16. Which means it is being circulated to legislators. But that usually doesn’t take that long, so I’m curious what is up with it. Maybe they didn’t want it to compete with SB207, which deals with bullying.

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  2. From a political perspective, when one on the outside thinks of disciplinary problems, they think of big dumb high school males (or females bigger than high school males) creating havoc in the classroom, threatening violence on teachers and the like. (Probably because our most recent high school experience is from the 12th grade). It is most imperative to remember whichever punishments get passed, reflects from kindergarten up… Disrupting a classroom is the same if it is in kindergarten or 12th Grade, though the danger to others from both instances is not even comparable.

    But, given how politics can change, all it will take is one person to decide to run his career on how many lives he can ruined, to actually ruin many lives needlessly.

    There needs to be some type of protection for those on the bottom, and a tougher schedule on those perhaps 17-18.

    Long range, I’d like to see a study on the merits of shipping our disciplinary problems out to boot camp. A real boot camp, putting these problem teens directly into the hands of the US Army or Marines.

    Knowing you’d be shipped off, instead of getting a hand slapped, would probably drive home that society is boss and you need to toe the line. Those who wouldn’t be phased by such a punishment really don’t belong in the classroom, nor on the streets … Put their bodies to use. Who knows, it could in most cases become their ticket to a viable future.

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    1. I completely agree that the levels of consequence escalation should be different for different students, and that needs to be accomplished without leaving a lot of gray space because (as some of us know all too well) there are folks who will seize on that gray space and use it in an unintended, deliberately inappropriate way.

      However, even differentiating by grade level or grade band (elementary, middle, high, for instance) is not adequate for one reason: size. When you have a situation in which a student is significantly older than the other students in that same grade, it often leads to a student who is a more mature biological size – taller, wider, often stronger. In my first year of teaching, at the high school level, I was 23 and one of my students turned 21 partway through the year and was “aged out”. I’m relatively petite (more in the way of height, not so much in the way of girth ha), and it can be scary to work with students who are old enough to be large enough to do real damage, and I can only imagine how much scarier that must be for elementary educators.

      Kavips, I’ve heard you consistently put forth the same basic thoughts about improving public education, and I agree with and appreciate those key points. I’d add that, in lieu of full-service schools with lots of social and emotional support, we do need some sort of alternative placement system, a GOOD one, where students whose needs aren’t being met by the traditional schooling system can receive more appropriate supports. Not every student will be able to pass the Smarter Balanced Assessment, but most students are capable of understanding when they have wronged another, and can feel shame and sorrow when those grievances are brought to their attention. This is where restorative practices can bridge the gap if rendered by trained, compassionate educators.

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