Sunday, January 10, 2016
Restorative Justice And Other Questionable Programs Make All Of Us Unsafe In Our Schools.
When Bill de Blasio became Mayor, he brought with him many ideas that progressives wanted to see in the New York City schools. One of them was how to change the student discipline code that would give students a second and even a third chance to mend their ways. This has resulted in a drastic reduction of student suspensions by 17%. While I do understand that minor infractions like student lateness, cursing, and failure to have school books or writing instruments should result in a stern lecture and a call to the parent, the fact is, that more serious student infractions are being treated the same way. For example, student insubordination, repeated cellphone usage in class, and disruptive misbehavior are being treated as if these are minor infractions rather than the more serious infractions that they are. Worse, student threats and intimidation to staff are being treated as if they're minor infractions as well.
One of the main programs that schools are being pressured to use to cut down on student suspensions is the "flavor of the day", restorative justice method. This program is a mediation program that takes the student offender into a circle of school staff, including teachers,administrators, and guidance counselors and try to explore the causes of the student's misbehavior. In theory, restorative justice would allow the student to realize that his or her behavioral problems can be addressed and the student comes out of this mediation circle a more compliant student.
Unfortunately, what sounds good in theory, does not work in the real world of the New York City schools. I have personally been involved in three such restorative justice sessions during my travels as an ATR. In two of the three cases, the students told their friends that what a joke it was. In both cases the two boys had been deliberately insubordinate to their teachers. In the third, a girl threatened her teacher and despite the teacher's report (she was not part of the circle or even attended) the girl claimed she was having a bad day and was sorry. Did it help? Nope! The last day I was at the school the same girl throw her book at a para who tried to discipline her in another class.
Now the New York Post has an article about how a group of 37 schools that go one step further and hand out warning cards (remember the movie Demolition Man?) for violations rather than real punishment. The result is staff morale is dropping and the school climate feels increasingly unsafe. However, since school grades are based on suspensions, school administrations are happy to limit school suspensions if their school grades improves. What about student and staff safety? That is not as important as getting a better school report from the DOE.
Some of our union caucuses (Unity and MORE) support these programs and maybe with a limited subset of minor infractions the restorative justice method may work but for the most part it just makes the New York City schools unsafe for students and staff.