There must be six other drafts of writing on my mind, and yet this pushed its way up front, with force and weight. A few questions on Twitter started my brain thinking, such as what was the suspension rate at school, etc. This past year the suspension rate was next to nothing, because, well, suspensions didn’t exist unless the student was caught with drugs, weapons, or one who was unlucky enough to get caught pulling the fire alarm. (I say unlucky because we had about a dozen false alarms last year, and he was the only one I know of who was caught and suspended.)
There was no ISS room, lunch detentions were a party held on the cafeteria stage, and our restorative justice leader/teacher and room was dismantled (she went to another building) halfway through the year. There was one counselor, and two special ed teachers for three grades, and a rotating list of support staff, one quitting or being let go after the other. There were several fights, many ending up with injuries, and the parties involved would be back at school the next day. It wasn’t that big of a deal, except often they were in the same classes, and other students would be bewildered that “nothing happened.” I had my own struggles with relationship building, classroom management, and physical and verbal abuse issues this year. When I initiated parent contact, conversations were well received and support helped the student. But many parents are overwhelmed with life (as was I–our family was in crisis mode), so finding the willingness and ability to stay calm, mindful, and patient was a huge challenge. One I personally failed at. And that cycle of failure, of not being who I know I can be, is a self-grudge.
Suspensions don’t work. And I’m not sure Restorative Justice does either, but that’s because I’ve never seen it in practice. ISS rooms “can” work if, and this is a big, big IF, there is a support person in there who’s mature, loving, firm, and sees the children. But the ISS rooms in the video are cinderblock basements, with cracked floors and locked doors. Horrifying. In an Edweek article by Allison Fried, “If You Won’t Do Restorative Justice Right, Don’t Do It” the essential message is:
Clayton County has been successful because it has set itself up for success. If Denver, and other districts, are to truly advocate for restorative justice, they must go all in. We need a comprehensive set of policies to help eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline. Students need firm boundaries at school, consistent positive and negative consequences, spaces to reflect, and trusted and trained adults who can help them to process trauma, emotional responses, and typical adolescent rebellion.If You Want Do Restorative Justice Right, Don’t Do It
Restorative justice programming should also involve strategic use of all the local resources available to schools. Denver, for example, with its access to the outdoors, and numerous youth organizations and cultural centers, can take advantage of community partnerships to enrich a restorative justice program. Finally, districts must put their money where their mouth is, through a dedicated application of funds for professional development, increased hiring of social workers and psychologists, and strategic programming.
To me, that sounds a lot more promising than a few peace circles.
My dad got “in trouble” a lot. He’s almost 79 years old (this month) and to this day remembers the name of the teacher who told him he might wind up in jail. I, too, was sent outside in the hallway or in the corner for talking, from kindergarten through second grade. (We moved from a Texas school to an open concept one in Illinois…) Being sent to the corner is humiliating, and being outside to the hallway only less so. What did I learn? That my intelligence and language skills were shameful. My younger son is ADD and over his school years just that “simple” issue became one I fought and advocated for his academic rights. (Nothing like being a teacher-momma and knowing how the sausage is made, so to speak.) But these low-level noncompliance issues are/were not our fault. We three share an exuberance for creativity, ideas, and have great senses of humor. We also share addictive behaviors, lack of focus, and misunderstood ambitions. But we did not have other learning issues, racism, ACEs, and the legion of other issues that face children.
But many of my students do. And for that reason, I have a responsibility to not wait for someone else to do anything– (not much one for waiting anyway, a bonus of ADD). Here are some resources for us all to be better at inclusion, all kinds of needs, and helping our students:
@MoniseLSeward shares an amazing Facebook group called the IEP Navigator:
Inclusive teaching strategies
Lives in the balance