Carlton, who was a principal in Houston, says school leaders cannot just abandon the use of suspension and expulsion, since doing so could lead to a chaotic environment where students don’t take rules seriously. The key, he says, is to find balance.

As CPS CEO, Duncan gave the Chicago Area Project a grant to implement restorative justice in six elementary schools, as a way to restore balance to discipline. But the program has yet to get underway in many of the schools, says Edith Crigler, president of the project, who says she’s met with resistance from teachers and principals to such programs.

“Here it is at the end of the school year, and we haven’t started,” Crigler says in May. “The schools can’t conceptualize how it would work. And they have so many other problems that they are dealing with. They just don’t know how to get behind it. Restorative justice might be in writing, but there is no mechanism to implement it.”

Teachers often fail to see how these programs can help them as opposed to providing more work for them, she explains. Some of them are veterans and from the old school of discipline, demanding quiet students who fall in line. Other teachers are from vastly different cultural backgrounds and can’t relate to students, assuming the worst too quickly when misbehavior erupts.

Either way, Crigler says she’s tired of talking to students and parents who complain about suspensions that seem, on the surface, to be unwarranted. Whatever the reasons, she notes, “students cannot learn if they are not in school and not in a supportive environment.

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