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Sharp drop in suspensions as Boston schools try ‘restorative’ approach

Sep 12, 2013

from the article by Jack Encarnacao on BostonHerald.com:

State data show a staggering drop in drug- and violence-related suspensions in Boston schools since the district amended its discipline policies to allow “restorative justice” measures in lieu of suspensions, including written apologies, conferences between offenders and victims, and anger management courses.

Boston Public Schools reported suspending or expelling 743 students in 2010 for offenses ranging from sexual assaults to fights to drug and weapons possession, according to data provided to the Herald by the state education department. In one year, that number dropped more than 80 percent, to 137 in 2011, and then to 120 in 2012.

The data indicate Boston largely stopped suspending students for physical fights and 
attacks. In 2010, 129 students were suspended for fights. In 2012, zero were.

In 2010, 34 students were suspended for sexual assaults. In 2012, zero.

“We strongly believe that discipline is important but should not necessarily be the first place we turn,” Boston schools spokesman Lee McGuire said. “This is the change we have started to make in our schools. Today, our first response is to understand why a problem is happening so we can try to address the underlying factors that caused it.”

The drops came during a time of little change in total suspensions and expulsions statewide. According to School Safety Discipline Reports submitted to the state, in 2010, there were 60,611 students statewide expelled or suspended. In 2012, 56,112 were.

In Boston, a system of 57,000 students, the drops coincide with the 2010 revision of the district’s “Code of Discipline” to a “Code of Conduct” that introduced alternatives to suspensions and expulsions called “Restorative Justice,” a method growing in popularity in urban school districts across the country.

According to the policy, restorative justice strives to “provide a safe space” so victims and the school community “have a say in how to fix the problem and help determine appropriate consequences.” In lieu of suspensions, the policy suggests, among other things, “re-teaching of expectations and skills,” having students write an apology or “reflective essay,” or sending them to a Saturday intervention and prevention program.

Read the full article.

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