By now most teachers have heard or read numerous articles that reference the School-to-Prison pipeline (if not here are a few to read from Teaching Tolerance, NEA Today, and Rethinking Schools). These articles, along with many others, have highlighted the issue of suspending and expelling students from schools; while also pointing out the disproportionate number of suspensions/expulsions given to students of color. The basic premise of these articles state that removing a student from school does little to correct misbehaviors and in many cases will only lead to increased behavior issues upon the students’ return to class due to his/her missing the academic content during their suspension/expulsion.
This past legislative session House Bill 1541 was passed (click here to see the full bill) in order to help reduce the number of students being suspended or expelled. While the bill has many layers to it, the key pieces that I took from reading the bill are:
- The state will create a task force to look at the disproportionality in student discipline practices
- The state will create a model discipline policy that school districts shall adopt and enforce during the 2017-18 school year
- If a student is suspended, that student will be afforded educational opportunities so that he/she is not behind academically upon his/her return
- Training should be given to teachers on intervention strategies in order to reduce the number of suspensions and expulsions
The new emphasis on how discipline is being handled has put a lot of the pressure on schools, and in most cases the classroom teacher, to find ways to address student behavior. Spokane Public Schools has begun the process of reducing discipline in their schools by adopting Restorative Justice. Restorative Justice centers around the premise that your school and/or classroom is a community. When disruptions occur, that not only affects the disruptor and the teacher, but it also affects the community and restoration is required in order to bring a sense of balance back to the community. As Kathy Jensen, staff attorney at Northwest Justice Project, said “The shift from out-of-school suspensions to restorative practices will have long-term impacts not only on the success of students and schools, but also on the families and our community as a whole.”
Positive, preventative and restorative systems work to identify and address the underlying causes of student behavior while holding the students accountable to the broader community. When implemented, these practices have been shown to reduce suspensions, expulsions, and referrals while improving school climate, student attendance, and academic achievement. In the one year since John R. Rogers High School has implemented Restorative Justice there has been a 61% decrease in the number of out-of-school suspensions and a 43% decrease in the total number of disciplinary incidents.
Much work is yet to be done, but some of the things that have worked for our building are:
- Hiring Achievement Gap Intervention Specialists (AGIS) to work with students that are struggling academically and socially in school.
- Develop a Student Support Team that pairs struggling students with an in-building mentor that can help guide students toward success.
- Partnering with local organizations such as Communities in Schools, 2nd Harvest Food Bank, and the Jonah Project to insure that basic student needs are being met outside of the school day.
- Doing a building wide book study (Help for Billy by Heather T. Forbes) on dealing with students of trauma, while providing professional development on social justice throughout the school year.
- Training support staff and building leadership on conflict resolution and ways to deescalate situations with students (Click here to see what it may look like in the classroom).
- Provide resources to classroom teachers on Tier 1 and Tier 2 interventions that can be used to help support students using PBIS.
One thing we have learned through this process is that there is no magic bullet and that some things that work in one building may not work in another. We have done visits to several schools during the past six years as part of our School Improvement Grant and have seen and tried many strategies to reach the last 10-15% of students that each year fail to graduate. What we realized, even before HB-1541 passed, is that we need to do something to reach our students of trauma and Restorative Justice seems to be a good way to reach those hard-to-reach kids.
What are some approaches you are using in your building/district to limit the number of suspensions/expulsions? What are some classroom resources that teachers can use to expand their classroom management tool box?
Aside from teaching, I also coach baseball (JV for the high school and AA for American Legion) and enjoy spending time with my wife and son.
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