I object to your May 13 editorial on Clark County School District Discipline Policies.
Healing and Affirmation Schools foster student belonging, family and community engagement. There is a strong body of research that supports the idea that when students feel safe in their school, their misconduct is diminished. For this reason, the use of restorative practices is growing nationwide.
You see, the “dilution” of punitive disciplinary practices – as the Review-Journal puts it – suggests that schools are eliminating an effective tool. Ultimately, there is a growing body of evidence from research and practice that suggests otherwise. Current disciplinary practices are not working.
Punitive disciplinary practices, especially those that keep students away from classrooms and schools, do not reduce student bad behavior. In fact, in many cases, they serve to amplify bad student behavior. Students who are repeatedly suspended or who receive these outdated, punishment-oriented approaches are denied the opportunity to learn positive and prosocial behaviors. They are also less likely to feel connected to their school, less likely to complete school, and more likely to be underemployed as adults.
Inevitably, someone reading this will argue that it “worked for them”. These are the same people who are lashing out at the continued failure of our school district without wanting to see any meaningful change. I challenge that perspective and say we know better, so we have to do better.
What do we know? We know that Black and Latinx youth are more often targeted by punitive practices than their White and Asian peers. We know that our current methods of discipline do not reduce problematic behavior. We know that making students feel a sense of community and belonging to the school reduces problematic behavior. We know that providing healing and trauma practices in schools reduces problematic behaviors.
Most importantly, we know that if we are to educate and prepare a generation of civic-minded and critical-minded adults, we must start by fostering community in schools. Researchers have built careers to prove it. Many school districts have recognized this. The CCDS evolves with the educational stream and seeks to use best practices to educate children. It means adopting practices that nourish the whole child and teach students to become members of a community.
Healing and assertive schools take the time to get to know children as individuals and explicitly teach the impact of their choices on the community. These restorative practices teach children that their misbehavior takes time to learn from their friends.
Restorative approaches help them understand the real harm they can cause and teach them how to repair that harm.
Where there are major infractions – behavior where redress is not possible – there are appropriate consequences. Opponents suggest that blatant violations against staff or other students remain unanswered. This is not true. The consequences are very real. On occasion, this may mean removing a student from school by suspension or expulsion. But this is the exception and not the rule. Students develop the feeling that they matter and their contributions to the learning environment matter. These approaches not only improve the social and emotional health of students, but they improve learning outcomes.
There is a basic principle in behavioral science that has been proven to work: Pay more attention to the behaviors you want to see more of. The Clark County School District is moving in the right direction by focusing on creating the learning environments we want to see and abandoning practices that penalize young people and deny them opportunities to learn.
Again, years of research and mountains of evidence support the shift from a punitive to a restorative culture. Isn’t it time that we really looked at finding strategies on how to improve outcomes in the school district in order to greatly benefit our children?
Tara Raines is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Physchology at UNLV and Director of Policy at the Children’s Advocacy Alliance.