Is Restorative Justice Discipline Working for LAUSD?

Nationally hailed for promoting more progressive school-discipline policies by the White House and many others, the Los Angeles Unified School District is having trouble in dealing with disruption after the nation’s second largest school system banned suspensions for defiance. Instead, the school announced plans to roll out an alternative known as restorative justice, which will seek to resolve conflicts through methods such as talking circles and others to build trust.
Although this shift has brought dramatic changes such as a downfall of suspensions district wide from 8% to 0.55% in the last school year, there are some concerns that unruly students are escaping consequences for their actions. The ban was moved amid national concern that it was not only imperiling academic achievement but, also prejudiced against minorities, particularly African Americans. However, the concern for this ban was also backed by the district’s failure to provide the staff and the training that is needed to effectively shift schools to the new approach. This complaint was backed up by LA school superintendent, Ramon Cortines, who stated that the new discipline policies which were pushed by former superintendent John Deasy through the Board of Education were poorly executed.
Nevertheless, the president of United Teachers Los Angeles, Alex Caputo-Pearl, stated that while the union backed the new approach and that teachers with sufficient training and support were using it affectively at different high schools such as Augustus Hawkins in South LA and Roosevelt in Boyle Heights; the widespread complaints from teachers who had not received the training have prompted the union to start their own training.
In regards to the staffing, Caputo Pearl said, “We’re now carrying the consequences of … not enough staffing to make it work and a lot of frustration.”
Yet, supporters of the restorative justice program, Steve Zimmer and Monica Garcia, said that the effort is crucial in improving academic achievement, along with instructional practices and financial management. Zimmer questioned the reports of any deteriorating discipline in numerous schools, and explained that such problems existed before the policy was enacted two years ago and were not a result of the policy itself.
But board member Richard Vladovic, claims that the hasty rollout of the restorative justice program has the potential to make matters worse. Without proper support or training, the teachers were having trouble keeping their students disciplined. This was not helped by the fact that the district only budgeted funds for only five restorative justice counselors, the number of which was increased to 25 after the community pressured the officials. Community members are also concerned that while this program is for all of the district’s 181 secondary schools, it only covers less than a third.
It is also unclear how the schools are coping with unruly students who should be under suspension restrictions as the data for it is not released.
The union representative for the Los Angeles Academy Middle School in South LA, Mr. Art Lopez stated that the teachers were at their breaking point and were walking a very fine line between extreme stress and an emotional meltdown. He also stated that the teachers felt that the administrators were pushing the burden of discipline onto instructors.
Michael Lam, an eight-grade Math teacher said that instead of receiving positive results, he is seeing an increase in student belligerence under the new discipline policies, and that it was not fair to the students who wanted to learn, further emphasizing that the standards were getting lower and lower.
While the new approach might be working for some schools, it will be a while before this new system will harness enough potential to help all students who are exposed to it. We’re sure you are intrigued to know more on the topic and how this method of discipline is affecting other schools – contact Kosnett Law further information and assistance on the topic.

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