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Teachers Concerned about Restorative Justice, Cite Faulty Implementation

Teachers Concerned about Restorative Justice, Cite Faulty Implementation

According to the Fresno Bee, 70 out of the 85 teachers working at Fresno Unified School District's McLane High School are petitioning for stricter student discipline policy after a rough transition to using restorative justice techniques.

While the school has significantly reduced expulsions and suspensions since switching disciplinary tactics in 2014, teachers argue that students are now able to misbehave with little to no consequence, making their job of running a safe classroom that much harder.

"The teachers paint McLane as a place where there are constant disruptions and numerous on-campus fights and where teachers are verbally assaulted. They point to an incident earlier this year in which the school resource officer was severely injured while breaking up a fight among students. A Fresno police spokesman confirmed that the officer was kicked in the head by a student, and required several eye surgeries," said the Fresno Bee.

This is not to say that McLane teachers don’t believe in the restorative model and do not understand that tactics like suspensions and expulsions have irrevocable effects on student learning. Rather, McLane teachers are bringing up a common concern that teachers working in school districts that switch to restorative justice models have—ineffective implementation that compromises school safety and thus the learning of other well-behaved students.

"Restorative justice can be a benefit, but I don’t think that what we’re implementing is restorative justice. You have to actually restore justice—you have to acknowledge that there are victims of inappropriate behavior, and the student engaged in that behavior has to understand that was inappropriate. The concept of restorative justice is supposed to have students make it right by their victims," said Fresno Unified trustee Carol Mills to the Fresno Bee.

Last year, Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) was forced to address similar concerns made by teachers who said the district’s decision to ban suspensions for non-violent behavior without alternative suggestions for discipline created significant stress due to unruly classrooms.

LAUSD teachers at the time blamed "the district for failing to provide the staff and training needed to effectively shift to the new approach—and their complaints are backed up by L.A. schools Supt. Ramon Cortines," said the Los Angeles Times.

According to Joe Brummer, expert on restorative practices, many schools that move to restorative practices fail because they lack the planning, vision, training, support and overall investment of time and money to succeed.

"I have learned whole-school cultural change takes time and investment. The process can be painfully slow. It takes training, dedication, and careful [planning]," Brummer said.

Brummer offers schools a checklist that the team should be looking at before they plan to make the major switch that is changing school disciplinary policy. This checklist includes implementing progress checks, creating a system of support, ensuring the staff is all on the same page and more. Check out the full list here.

For now, teachers in districts like Fresno Unified will continue fighting for change until open dialogue can be had and the need for all-in implementation can be addressed.

Nicole Gorman, Senior Education World Contributor

12/12/2016

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