Restorative justice affects students
By Bella Crayton, Co-Copy Editor
Across the country, the role of discipline in schools has been slowly changing and adapting to the modern age. In response to the ever-developing culture, the school district has shifted away from punitive measures and towards an all-encompassing response to discipline.
On Monday, Nov. 12, a shooting threat was reported to the administration. The threat was investigated and the case was quickly resolved, resulting in two arrests. The threats and the administration’s ensuing reaction sparked a larger conversation surrounding discipline, and what can be done to increase its effectiveness.
Currently, the middle school employs a system of conflict management as an alternative to punitive measures such as detentions or suspensions. This method of resolution is known as restorative justice.
“We really try to help them navigate and work out those conflicts together with adults,” middle school principal Greg Allison said.
Restorative justice aims to help students learn a lesson from their actions rather than punish them for their mistakes.
“It’s about teaching students the appropriate ways to behave and to contribute and be respectful to a school environment,” Allison said.
This system is designed to look out for the students’ best interests, especially in regards to how it can affect their future.
“There is a pretty strong correlation to students who are suspended to being potentially in prison down the line,” Allison said.
The absence of traditional punishments opens the door for other forms of responses to misbehaving students.
“If you aren’t going to have … more punitive or higher consequences for things, you have to put into place things like mental health resources and behavior plans,” Allison said.
However, the administration does not assume that programs like these always work. If education and counseling fail to stop negative behaviors, punishments would grow in severity.
“Logically, sometimes consequences get more serious the older you get,” Allison said.
High school principal Danny Rock expressed similar understanding of the progression of discipline.
“I think students get a lot more warnings at McMurray,” Rock said. “The challenge is that when students transition between 8th and 9th grade, there are some students [not yet there] developmentally.”
However, both schools follow the same underlying principles.
At the high school, some students feel that there is a lack of discipline and punishment in this response. Rock is aware of these opinions.
“I also think that sometimes restorative justice is misinterpreted as being soft on misbehavior,” Rock said. “The concern is that all someone has to do was say they were sorry and then suddenly there’s no other consequences for their bad behavior.”
However, the actual punishments tend to happen behind the scene, in order to respect student privacy.
“There also [are] usually punishment or deterrents at the same time that there’s restoration,” said Rock.
Standard punishments for individual offenses are listed in the student handbook under sections 32-40 and 32-41. The handbook gives a chart showing a range of consequences for each action, progressing in severity each time the action is committed. The consequences include methods such as student-teacher conferences or writing an essay.
“The educational aspect of restorative justice often means that the punishment depends on the intent of the student, such as when a threat is made,” Rock said.
Several factors also determine the type of discipline received by a student. This factor played in significantly to the incidents of school shooting threats.
“Is this just self-harm? Or is this harm to others? At least two out of three [threats] were pretty clearly right away more about self-harm concerns than about hurting-others concerns,” said Rock.
In general, the school aims to holistically solve the problems that lead to a behavioral issue before any other steps are taken.
“Discipline isn’t necessarily that powerful,” Rock said. “It can maybe, in small doses, effectively maintain [a] learning environment, but if we get to a point where we have a cultural problem … then discipline, as a deterrent, is only going to tackle the top layer of that problem … I always think of discipline as being a collaborative effort … [of] punishment and prevention.”
Restorative justice affects students