In communities across the country, school discipline policies became increasingly more punitive in the 1980s in response to the call for “zero tolerance” of youth behavior. The use of exclusionary discipline policies, such as suspensions, expulsions, and referrals to law enforcement, increased for even the most minor of offenses, like being late to school or talking in class. Rather than support students in their development, these school policies push students out of the classroom and hinder opportunities for quality education. For some students, “zero tolerance” means graduating high school with a police record. For many others, these discipline policies push them out of school long before graduation. Rarely do these harsh practices change student behavior; rather they actually worsen students’ attitudes towards school by removing them from class and isolating them from their peers. By failing to address the adult behavior that often triggers or escalates student behavior, these practices can also damage the sense of community within a school.
These exclusionary and criminalizing discipline practices are a powerful aspect of the racial inequalities that pervade public schooling, from disparate dropout and graduation rates, to rates of referral to special education and gifted education, and differences in school funding and resourcing. Racial disparities are of particular concern when the disciplinary category is subjective and affected by cultural perception. For example, suspensions for “insubordination,” “defiance,” “disrespect,” “refusal to obey school rules,” and “disruption” have been shown to exhibit very high racial disparities, andhave led some districts to ban them as a solution. In what has come to be known as the school-to-prison pipeline, students of color are far more likely than their white peers to be alienated from school through punishment, put into contact with law enforcement at school, and pushed towards a jail cell for the same behavior as their white peers.
The Denver School-Based Restorative Practices Partnership is a coalition that includes Advancement Project, Denver Classroom Teachers Association, Denver Public Schools, National Education Association, and Padres & Jóvenes Unidos.
It is the passionate students, families, and educators working to end the school-to-prison pipeline that will bring this movement to life. Every interaction that is backed by the training and guidance of restorative practices can make an impact on the lives of students affected by traditional, punitive discipline policies.
The Restorative Practices Partnership has assembled a guide that hopes to build the capacity of educators and community members to implement a positive approach to discipline in the form of restorative practices.
The guide is coming soon! For more information, email Allison Meier: firstname.lastname@example.org