With almost 83% of youth in Los Angeles identifying as people of color and high suspension and expulsion rates in the Los Angeles Unified School district, it has become supremely important to address the issue of suspensions and expulsions as it directly leads to students dropping out and coming in contact with the criminal justice system.
For many black and brown youth living in low income communities, schools serve as institutions that push out students and provide links to the criminal system, rather than institutions of education and support. Unfortunately, school environments have acted as though they are dealing with troubled students, rather than students who are dealing with problems and harsh life circumstances, when drafting and implementing school discipline policies. These practices have become a microcosm in the way youth are viewed and targeted by local, state, and national policies.
What is Restorative Justice?
Restorative Justice is a theory of justice that requires us as a society to think of criminal acts or disciplinary incidents on school grounds as a violation of relationships rather than a violation of laws or rules. Restorative Justice requires us to understand the root cause of an individual's actions and then work with that individual to support him or her to make it right, to be held truly accountable. Crime and conflict often arises out of unmet needs. Restorative Justice works to address everyone's needs as a community to prevent future violence.
How do Zero-tolerance Policies Work?
Zero-tolerance policies leave little room for due process, and often times do not provide avenues for students and parents to interject in perceived unfair disciplinary actions. Nor do they allow for teachers and students to learn and grow together and develop a deeper investment in each other. Instead, students are being removed from the classroom as a result of the slightest infractions: Arriving to class one or two minutes late, forgetting to bring a textbook to class, or not wearing your student identification card on campus are all common examples of minor offenses which, under zero-tolerance policies, allows and calls for school administrators to remove students from a learning environment.
What do you think about implementing restorative justice practices in schools? How are zero-tolerance policies impacting students and their learning opportunities?
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