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Amid School Disruptions, Officials Rethink Approaches To Discipline

As kids’ behavior reaches crisis points after the stress of pandemic shutdowns, many schools are facing pressure from critics to rethink their approaches to discipline, including policies intended to reduce suspensions and expulsions, reports the Associated Press. Approaches such as “restorative justice” were adopted widely as educators updated exclusionary policies that cut off students’ access to learning and disproportionately affected students of color. More students have been acting out, and some school systems have faced questions from teachers, parents and lawmakers about whether a gentle approach can effectively address problems that disrupt classrooms. Newport News, Va. teachers complained at a school board meeting that the school system where a 6-year-old shot his teacher had become too lenient with students. Students who assaulted staff were routinely allowed to stay in the classroom, they said, because of a misguided focus on keeping them in school.

Instances of misbehavior have been on the rise since students returned to classrooms from the COVID-19 pandemic. A National Center for Education Statistics survey of school leaders last summer found 56 percent of respondents said the pandemic led to increased classroom disruptions from student misbehavior and 48 percent said it led to more acts of disrespect toward teachers and staff. The Gwinnett County, Ga. school board approved a “restorative practices” program in August that to focus on conflict resolution. The district paused the program in December, after concerns were raised over incidents, including a video of a student assaulting a teacher at a high school. In Clark County, Nv., district leaders announced that they would take a harder line on fighting and physical altercations, saying they would be grounds for expulsion. Some in the community blamed a “restorative justice” approach for an increase in violence. Thalia González, a professor at the University of California College of Law, San Francisco, said that unlike other forms of discipline, restorative practices aim to address the root cause of student’s behavior and reintegrated them into classroom. “That’s the problem with punitive discipline such as suspension and expulsion,” Gonzalez said. “You get removed and then you just come back. There’s nothing done to reintegrate into the community and rebuild the climate, the connectedness, the sense of safety, all the things that we know are so important to young people learning.”


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