Schools face pressure to adopt stricter policies on discipline

With children’s behavior reaching a crisis point after the stress and isolation of pandemic closures, many schools are rethinking their approach to discipline, including policies aimed at reducing suspensions and dropouts. face pressure from critics to

Approaches such as “restorative justice” have been widely adopted in recent decades as educators cut off student access to learning and updated exclusionary policies that disproportionately affected students of color. it was done.

But more students are taking actionand some school systems are facing questions from teachers, parents, and lawmakers about whether a gentle approach can effectively address the issues that disrupt classrooms.

The latest example occurred this week in Newport News, Virginia, where a teacher is located. complained at school board School system for 6-year-olds shot his teacher I was too generous with my students. Students who assaulted staff were usually allowed to stay in the classroom, they say.

The local school board said it would take “necessary steps to restore public confidence” in the school system.

Anecdotally, federal data shows that cases of cheating have increased since students returned to classrooms from the COVID-19 pandemic. In a National Center for Education Statistics survey of school leaders last summer, 56% of respondents said the pandemic had increased classroom disruption due to student misbehavior, and 48% said teachers and disrespectful behavior towards staff.

Rachel Perera, a fellow at the Brookings Institution that studies education, said the new scrutiny of approaches to discipline could halt the momentum of policy reform.

“There’s a lot of pressure on schools right now,” she said. “Schools also say they don’t have the resources to address more behavioral problems. I’m afraid I might end up doing it.”

Policy change is already underway. In Gwinnett County, Georgia, the school board approved his August use of a “restorative practices” program. The program was intended to focus on conflict resolution, damage repair, and rebuilding relationships in the classroom. However, due to growing concerns about incidents at school, including a video of a student assaulting a teacher at a high school, the school district suspended the program in his December and had plans to resume in the 2023-2024 school year. .

In Clark County, Nevada, district leaders announced in March that they would take a tougher stance on fights and physical altercations, citing them as grounds for expulsion. Some in the community had blamed the increase in violence on “restorative justice” approaches.

As of 2020, 21 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws supporting the use of restorative practices in schools, according to a study by the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality.

Proper implementation of this practice requires time, resources and community support, said Rebecca Epstein, executive director of the center.

“Change is hard,” Epstein said. “Change requires effort and resources, and educators are very thinly distributed. Changing a culture of automatically excluding students in response to disruptive behavior will take more than individual teachers alone.” No. It really requires a cultural change across the school.”

Using restorative justice doesn’t mean schools can’t keep destructive students out of the classroom, said Talia Gonzalez, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco School of Law. However, unlike other forms of discipline, restorative practice aims to address the root causes of student behavior and reintegrate them into the classroom.

“It’s a matter of punitive discipline like suspension and expulsion,” Gonzalez said. “You are taken away and you just come back. Nothing has been done to rebuild it.”

Traditional discipline has magnified inequality. Black children often stop or drop out of school at much higher rates than white children. Research has found that these disciplinary gaps can have lifelong effects on children, including poorer educational outcomes and higher rates of incarceration.

Newport News has a unique history of restorative justice.

At a 2017 school board meeting, school district officials discussed efforts to implement recovery practices while reducing school closures. Tracy Pope said at the time that such practices do not eliminate what is already being done, but rather “another way of looking at how we do our discipline.”

Not all educators were happy with their handling of student discipline well before a first-grade teacher was shot on Jan. 6. According to a survey of teachers and staff conducted in the spring of 2022, only 60% of respondents said that administrators deal with students’ negative behavior.

Newport News spokesperson Michelle Price said in an email that the district’s code of conduct “furthers the district’s mission to ensure that every student graduates ‘citizenly ready’.” It is.”

“It provides guidance to students, families and staff and details the many options available to NNPS staff for addressing student behavior,” she said.


Ma writes about education and equity for AP’s Race and Ethnicity team. Follow Ma and Finley on Twitter: and


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