Charlotte will rethink how it punishes students

Charlotte will rethink how it punishes students
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How children are disciplined in school may not seem like a big deal. As long as there is nothing violent or inhumane, we believe it works. You may even think “those bad kids should be punished tougher,” but what if there was an alternative to the suspension and disciplinary system Charlotte schools have in place?

ONE-press-conferenceO.N.E. Charlotte’s news conference

Earlier this month, O.N.E. Charlotte, an organization of activists and teachers spearheading a Restorative Justice campaign in Charlotte, held a news conference and asked schools Superintendent Ann Clark to develop and implement Restorative Justice practices in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. Clark agreed to implement Restorative Justice into six schools in the 2015-2016 school year.

But what does Restorative Justice mean? According to O.N.E. Charlotte, it’s “a process that emphasizes the need to treat offenders with respect and to reintegrate them into the school community in ways that teach and lead to socially constructive behavior.”

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Is suspension a proven method for rehabilitating destructive behavior? A 2013 study has shown that suspension actually leads to higher dropout rates. The study found that “being suspended even once in ninth grade is associated with a twofold increase in the likelihood of dropping out, from 16% for those not suspended to 32% for those suspended just once.” The things students were suspended for were mostly “minor infractions of school rules, such as disrupting class, tardiness, and dress code violations, rather than for serious violent or criminal behavior,” the study found.

one-charlotte-celebrationO.N.E. Charlotte ending the news conference with a celebration

Researchers at Northeastern University found that, “Among dropouts between the ages of 16 and 24, incarceration rates were a whopping 63 times higher than among college graduates.”  Although there is no direct link from dropping out to becoming incarcerated, dropping out places students in the socioeconomic conditions that lead to criminal activity in order to survive.

The current suspension system is indirectly creating a school-to-prison pipeline and it is disproportionately affecting students of color. The N.C. Department of Public Instruction reported that African-American students accounted for more than 77 percent of suspensions while only accounting for 41 percent of the student population. Understanding the minor offenses that are causing these suspensions in the first place, we need corrective action for the system that is in place.

The current suspension system in our schools is failing our students. We’re removing students from the classroom when we need to be teaching them. We’re robbing children of their youthful innocence when we treat them as criminals for minor offenses that got previous generations a slap on the wrist and timeout at home. Luckily for Charlotte and its students, O.N.E. Charlotte’s work with the support of Superintendent Clark will help Charlotte create a system that gives our students an opportunity to succeed — not a pitfall to become another statistic.

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