Read the first post in this series: Restorative Policies for Student Success
Exclusionary school discipline methods are applied at a much greater rate to racial minorities and students with disabilities. In Tennessee, black students are five times more likely to be suspended as white students. Disparities in disciplinary actions prompted White Station High School student Janiya Douglas to launch a poster campaign last year to raise awareness about the issue.
According to Douglas, awareness of the disparities contributes to social hierarchies within the school and negatively affects interactions between white students and black students across both traditional and optional academic programs. “Among the white optional students the discipline disparities enforce their privilege; they know they can do things like leave the campus and not get punished for it.”
Exclusionary discipline practices not only negatively affect the individual students on whom they are applied and the overall classroom and school environments; they also have negative reverberations on the broader community. Students who have been suspended even once are three times more likely to be incarcerated later in life. It’s time to rethink this approach.
Restorative justice disciplinary policies and practices are proactive efforts to address the root causes of student misbehavior. They attempt to create the types of teacher-student relationships and school environments that help to prevent conflicts and discipline issues from occurring in the first place. This approach to school discipline is focused on creating and maintaining a supportive learning environment and helping students develop healthy habits and mindsets and become accountable for their actions. Rather than punishing bad behavior, restorative practices result from a priority placed on rewarding good behavior. In contrast with exclusionary discipline methods, restorative methods represent an investment of time, resources, and training for results that are more beneficial to individual student achievement and that have more positive impacts on schools and their surrounding communities.