This is a very important column on school safety by Lisa Schiff in BeyondChron.org, addressing some ongoing holes in our school safety policy. Everyone who cares about keeping kids safe in school should read it! Lisa writes:
The BOE has turned to the “Restorative Justice” model to address this complex of problems, which they formally adopted as a policy on October 13, 2009. The hope is that this model — having students who committ offenses become aware of the impact of their actions and take on responsibility for addressing the resultant consequences thereby enabling them to stay in school — will address the educational cost of students missing school due to suspensions and expulsions and will have a healing and positive result for all affected.
But restorative justice is not the answer to our school safety and student violence problem. While it is a worthwhile approach, by definition it can only be but one component in a larger effort to keep our students safe and to deal with violence when it occurs. Restorative justice is only appropriate for certain offenses (not, for instance, for violent assaults on children) and only comes in to play after the fact. What we absolutely need right from the start is a strong program that has as its objective preventing student crime before it happens. We must have as our priority the reduction in numbers of student victims and student perpetrators, and be prepared with solutions like, but not restricted to, restorative justice when our efforts fail.
The troglodytes in the SF Gate’s comments section are already having a field day with a resolution coming up on tomorrow night’s agenda. Specifically, it’s the resolution authored by Commissioners Kim, Maufas and Fewer, titled “In Support of a Comprehensive School Climate, Restorative Justice and Alternatives to Suspensions/Expulsions,” first introduced in June.
Reducing suspensions and expulsions has been a goal of the Board for years — it makes no sense to discipline our most troubled students by barring them from school, since school is the place where we have concentrated the most resources and supports for those students. Of course: students should not be allowed to menace others or disrupt anyone’s learning; at the same time, barring our lowest-achieving and most troubled students from school does them no good and certainly does not ensure future achievement. So we need a better way, and this resolution seeks to define it.
I have several questions about whether this is the best way, however — in the Budget committee we heard that the original motion would cost the district something like $2.4 million to implement at 25 schools. The resolution has been amended significantly since then, so perhaps its budget impact has been significantly reduced; that is my first question. Second, I am uncomfortable with the long list of “policy components” in the Appendix to the resolution. To me, resolutions are more properly a broad statement of policy with a directive to the staff to figure out how to best implement the policy; dictating precise and detailed policy components seems a bit heavy-handed for a Board resolution and I would be more comfortable if these policy components were contained in administrative regulations completed by the Superintendent and his staff. This does not, in my opinion, water down the policy directive in the original resolution at all — since the resolution contains a clause that the Superintendent should report quarterly to the Board on the progress towards the policy goal definied in the legislation.
Finally, not to discourage anyone from attending a Board meeting, but tomorrow night is supposed to be the worst weather yet of the year. If you can, I recommend staying home and listening to the meeting on the radio or watching online, saving yourself a trip home in high winds and heavy rains.