Reduced suspensions may negatively impact students, report claims
- A wave of reforms to school discipline policies in states and school districts around the country intend to reduce suspensions in schools, but these changes could result in unintended negative perspectives on school climate from students, according to an analysis from Max Eden, a senior fellow at the conservative nonprofit Manhattan Institute.
- In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio instituted more restrictive guidelines on when suspensions can be issued, and he has allocated $1.2 million to train teachers in ‘restorative justice’ techniques. Eden claims city students have reported less mutual respect and more instances of fighting since these new approaches were initiated, basing his conclusions on the city’s annual school climate surveys.
- Critics of the study argue the perception of safety in NYC schools may not match the reality of the infrequency of violent incidents, and opponents of high suspension rates say lowering those rates will help reduce potentially harmful interactions between students and the criminal justice system.
The practice of “restorative justice” in schools, which aims to resolve discipline issues with intra-student communication, remains a comparatively new approach for school districts to utilize. Results are still limited when it comes to how effective these programs are. Most studies examine discipline records and suspensions rates before and after restorative justice practices are instituted, but they cannot measure the long-term benefits for students who might otherwise be endangered by the school-to-prison pipeline. A recent study found students engaged in restorative practices at a Virginia school believed the approach kept them from being suspended and potentially “locked up,” but these practices may lack broader support because there is not broad evidence of results as of yet.
In New York City, the debate over whether restorative justice techniques work is part of a continuing struggle between public school advocates and critics over the level of violence in the city’s public schools. The de Blasio administration and its critics, including the pro-charter school organization Families For Excellent Schools, offer dueling statistics and perspectives on whether city schools have become safer in recent years. If restorative justice and discipline reform gain more support nationwide, the debate in New York City could be predictive of a national struggle on whether the schools utilizing these approaches are ensuring safety.