“We don’t know how many students are casualties of a racist system, in which they are punished for being in their bodies, for being brown and black kids, and we’ve got to do something,” said Fatimah Salleh, mother of two former students at Durham School of the Arts (DSA) in Durham, N.C. “If we are not really aggressive about it, then it will be the way America has always deemed it to be.”
Humans of Restorative Justice stories highlight the individuals working to build and restore strong relationships in their communities. They are written and edited by David Levine, of The National Center for Restorative Justice, based on interviews with real-world practitioners.
There’s good news and bad news in the report “Indicators of School Crime and Safety 2015,” the most recent in an annual series produced jointly by the U.S. departments of education (ED) and justice (DOJ). Just as important, there’s help available to sustain the good news and tackle the bad.
Educators are reacting to a recent study of Texas public schools that found students who were disciplined were more likely to be involved in the juvenile justice system and do poorly academically. The study, by the Council of State Governments Justice Center, also found that 60 percent of Texas public school students received some form of punishment at least once between seventh and 12th grades. “Policymakers should be asking if the school discipline system is getting the outcomes they want it to get,” Michael Thompson, director of the center, told The Washington Post. The study was co-authored by Texas A&M University’s Public Policy Research Institute. Researchers collected data from about 1 million public school students who began seventh grade in 2000, 2001 or 2002. Nearly 15 percent were involved in some way with the juvenile justice system.
The bad news: recent research indicates that schools suspend far more kids than they need to, and youth – especially youth of color, though not always — suffer unfairly for it. The good news? Sure, zero-tolerance school discipline policies need revision. But there’s another solution to the problem: changing school culture by implementing mediation and “restorative justice” techniques in schools. First, the background.
A new survey to gauge what parents and students think about public school discipline is being fielded right now by the Georgia Appleseed Center for Law and Justice. The non profit group is analyzing student discipline issues across the state. They’re looking at student discipline data and interviewing a wide range of people connected with schools and courts, including principles, teachers, school probation officers, attorneys and juvenile court judges. Twelve school districts representing a range of geography and economics are currently participating and have been promised anonymity. JUSTGeorgia and the Barton Center are helping get the word out to families. “We want a broad based and diverse group of parents and students to respond. We’ve asked a number of stakeholder groups around the state to forward surveys to their mailing list so we can get as many views as possible,“ said Rob Rhodes, Director of Legal Affairs at Georgia Appleseed.
Picture this: Students lay out their school initials in bricks on the outfield of a rival team’s baseball field so the grass underneath dies, leaving a long-term imprint. If the culprits are caught, their punishment could range from a wink and a reprimand to a criminal charge of vandalism. The difference depends on where in Georgia the prank occurs. Some schools and districts punish much more frequently and more severely than others, according to “Effective Student Discipline: Keeping Kids in Class,” a report released in June by the non-profit Georgia Appleseed Center for Law & Justice. Some districts, for example, impose out-of-school-suspension at a rate 10 to 20 times higher than others. “Perhaps the overarching theme of Georgia’s student discipline law is the strong reliance on local control in the development of overall discipline policies,” says the report, subtitled, “An Assessment of Georgia’s Public School Disciplinary Policies, Practices and Outcomes.” The June release is Phase One of a project expected to be completed in late 2010 in association with JustGeorgia, a statewide juvenile justice coalition formed in 2006.