Instead of suspending misbehaving students, schools are trying “restorative justice” programs, reports the New York Times. At Oakland’s Ralph Bunche High School, an alternative school for students who’ve been in trouble, coordinator Eric Butler tries to teach students to defuse conflict, “come up with meaningful reparations for their wrongdoing” and develop empathy with others.
Even before her father’s arrest on a charge of shooting at a car, Mercedes was prone to anger. “When I get angry, I blank out,” she said. She listed some reasons on a white board — the names of friends and classmates who lost their lives to Oakland’s escalating violence. Among them was Kiante Campbell, a senior shot and killed during a downtown arts festival in February. His photocopied image was plastered around Mr. Butler’s room, along with white roses left from a restorative “grief circle.”
. . . “A lot of these young people don’t have adults to cry to,” said Be-Naiah Williams, an after-school coordinator at Bunche whose 21-year-old brother was gunned down two years ago in a nightclub. “So whatever emotion they feel, they go do.”
The U.S. Department of Education’s civil rights office is investigating Oakland’s high suspension and expulsion rates. African-American boys make up 17 percent of the district’s enrollment but 42 percent of all suspensions. (It would be more useful to look at their percentage of male enrollment vs. male suspensions.) Many disciplinary actions were for “defiance,” such as cursing at a teacher, rather than violence, notes the Times.
Even advocates of restorative justice admit it doesn’t work for all students. Programs vary across the country. Some schools are reducing suspensions by putting students on “administrative leave,” reports the Times. ”
Restorative justice can mean formal mediation and reparation or more spontaneous discussions.
A recent circle at Bunche for Jeffrey, who was on the verge of expulsion for habitual vandalism, included an Oakland police officer, and the conversation turned to the probability that Jeffrey would wind up incarcerated or on the streets. The student had told Mr. Butler that he was being pressured to join a gang.
“Cat, you got five people right now invested in your well-being,” Mr. Butler told him. “This is a matter of life or death.” Jeffrey agreed to go to Mr. Butler’s classroom every day at third period to do his schoolwork.
Butler’s sister was murdered by her boyfriend, he told Bunche students. When the boyfriend’s mother knocked on his door to ask forgiveness, “The want for revenge in my stomach lifted.”
Sending disruptive, defiant and violent students to an alternative school that focuses on teaching them to get along with others and build self-control sounds like a good idea to me. I’m sure it helps their former teachers and classmates. I hope it helps them.
In New York City, schools are sending students to the emergency room for behavioral outbursts, charges public advocate Bill de Blasio, who’s suing the city for data on 911 calls.