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Alexandria students push for alternatives to suspension

January 7, 2014

A group of student advocates that in recent years has pushed for alternative approaches to school discipline want the program, which focuses less on punishment and more on repairing harm done in school incidents. The students are responding to statistics that show African American and Latino students are suspended at far higher rates than their white classmates: In the 2010-11 school year, for every white student who received a short-term suspension — usually for a minor, nonviolent offense — five African American and nearly three Latino classmates were suspended.

More time out of school means more catching up for students and a greater likelihood of dropping out of school.

Advocates for alternatives say schools should aim to educate, not set students back.

“I think school can be a place where you learn from your mistakes,” said Ana Diaz, 16, a junior at T.C. Williams. “We should be taught how to be a better person and how to do things better. [It should not be] a place where you did something wrong and so you got kicked out.”

But midway through the school year, the pilot hasn’t started.

Kelly Alexander, a spokeswoman for Alexandria schools, said officials agree with the principles of restorative justice and are committed to introducing it at the high school. “We are attempting to gather good information before we take the next steps,” she said.

Alexander said one thing the system is looking at is how such approaches have worked in other places. A meeting is scheduled this month to discuss the program, she said.

Restorative justice often involves students, educators and parents sitting down with a mediator to talk about an incident and determine an appropriate response. Ideally, students can be held accountable for their actions but also address the root cause of the conflict.

School systems are increasingly exploring alternative discipline models as the zero-

tolerance policies that became popular across the country in the 1990s face more scrutiny for offering blunt punishments that don’t always fit the crime.

Schools in Denver; Oakland, Calif.; and Portland, Ore., are using restorative justice. In Fairfax County, administrators at each middle school and high school have been trained during the past two years in restorative justice techniques and in identifying the types of incidents where they might be used.

Read the full article.


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