Restorative justice is better approach for school discipline

It's no secret that high rates of out-of-school suspensions have a significant negative impact on students' educational experiences and their opportunity to learn. When students are suspended -- often for non-violent offenses such as wearing inappropriate attire or talking back to a teacher -- they are not in class learning, and the chances skyrocket that they will not graduate on time or will drop out altogether. Take for instance the Buffalo, N.Y., public school system, where the average suspension rate is 1 in 5 students, compared to the New York State rate of 1 in 20 students. Buffalo public schools graduate just 47 percent of their students and about a third drop out. Among Hispanic students, the numbers are even more stark: only about 40 percent graduate on time and 41 percent dropped out in 2010.

But just as these tragic consequences are no secret, we also know there is a proven method for reversing this trend, called "restorative justice," that seeks to move from punishment to discipline and providing them most constructive resolutions possible to help ensure children have the best opportunity to learn possible.

In a recently released report, the Alliance for Quality Education, Citizen Action of New York, and the Public Education and Policy Fund of New York, bring attention to the Buffalo, N.Y., public school district's strict out-of-school suspension practices for non-violent offenses. In citing statistics that show out-of-school suspensions have significant educational consequences, the report urges the district to adopt a “restorative justice” alternative that would keep students in schools.

We agree with the report's conclusion that an effective in-school suspension program for non-violent offenses gives students the tools to excel academically and socially.

"Out-of-school suspensions for NON-VIOLENT offenses do not address the underlying issues that lead students to misbehave and are not essential to safety," the report concludes.

Read the full report here to learn more about successful "restorative justice" programs in Colorado and Pennsylvania, and encourage your school leaders to implement the report's recommendations.

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