Editorial: PED’s ‘restorative’ discipline should not forget victims - Albuquerque Journal

Editorial: PED’s ‘restorative’ discipline should not forget victims

The New Mexico Public Education Department’s heart is in the right place with a new discipline model aimed at reducing “exclusionary punishment.” Kicking wrongdoing students to the curb without support and interventions does nothing to get them on the right track.

However, a June news release announcing the launch of “trauma-responsive and restorative practices” in schools across the state emphasizes support for the aggressor without any mention of support for the victim.

It’s true suspending or expelling aggressors does little to nothing to address the root causes of why they may be acting out. And such discipline allows the aggressors a vacation from school, putting them further behind in classwork.

“The traditional model of discipline is punitive and exclusionary,” says Emma Green, who was hired recently as PED’s first prevention, response and resiliency coordinator. “Trauma-responsive and restorative practices are based on accountability and inclusiveness so that we can keep kids in class to learn. This helps a student’s attendance and academic achievement.”

Green’s hiring in May and the launch of a new discipline approach were announced in the June news release. “Chronic trauma – including abuse, neglect, homelessness, domestic violence or community violence – affects children’s brain and behavioral development. It can cause hypervigilance and impact their memory and executive functions, including the ability to pay attention, plan and think things through,” states the release.

“When these children misbehave, most schools use disciplinary policies that involve withdrawing attention and support rather than addressing their problems.”

The policy also says behavioral supports should take priority over disciplinary consequences.

For example, misbehavior may result in a “talking circle” where a group and the offender discuss how the offender’s actions harmed people, relationships and communities.

House Minority Whip Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, is not sold on the idea.

“The problem I have with this restorative justice system that’s in place … is it goes too far in worrying about restoring the victimizer,” he said. “We’re worried, I think, sometimes too much for the one at the expense of the many. We need to make sure that the learning environment is not disrupted.”

Point taken.

Call us cynics, but aren’t kids smart enough to realize if there are no serious negative consequences for their actions, there is little incentive to change their behavior?

Education Secretary Kurt Steinhaus counters by saying restorative justice practices can de-escalate tensions between students before they get out of hand, while avoiding piling more trauma on the aggressors, who could be victims themselves of abuse or neglect.

Also true.

So why does it have to be one or the other? Why not implement discipline such as in-school suspension while also providing support and trying to get at the root cause of the offender’s misbehavior?

Of course, a major challenge is to provide this support when schools are understaffed and resources are stretched thin — in a public school system where the state’s average counselor-to-student ratio is 426-to-1.

PED needs to hit the right balance that protects victims while trying to get aggressors on a path that’s not self-destructive. We agree all but the most serious infractions should involve in-school suspensions where students can keep up with their studies, be mentored and get support.

The last thing our schools need is another unfunded, unstaffed mandate that expects them to be all things — parent, teacher, counselor, coach, babysitter, friend, etc. Restorative justice initiatives have value and may be the future in K-12 education. But they need to be implemented with realistic staffing and support.

And they should always put victims first.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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