Practically every day I read some news story about a student discipline situation that ends up in court and makes me think: “they should have been using Restorative Practices.” One of the benefits of Restorative Practices is that the risk of litigation will go down. Fewer district resources will be allocated to legal defense costs. On the other hand, there is now at least one reported case in which the plaintiffs are asking the court to require the school district to convert from its punitive discipline system to one based on Restorative Practices. That case comes “Straight Outta Compton.”
The plaintiffs in the case against the Compton Unified School District assert that the students in Compton have experienced traumatic events that “profoundly affect their psychological, emotional, and physical well-being.” The suit describes these traumatic events as “exposure to violence and loss, family disruptions related to deportation, incarceration and/or the foster system, systemic racism and discrimination, and the extreme stress of lacking basic necessities, such as not knowing where the next meal will come from or where to sleep that night.”
This is what I call a “cause” lawsuit. The plaintiffs in Compton seek no money. They want a court order requiring the school to become a “trauma-sensitive school.” They define such a school as exhibiting three core components: 1) TRAINING of educators to recognize, understand and proactively address the effects of complex trauma through building students’ self-regulation and social-emotional skills; 2) RESTORATIVE PRACTICES to build healthy relationships and resolve conflicts peacefully rather than using punitive discipline; and 3) ensuring that CONSISTENT MENTAL HEALTH SUPPORT is available.
Some of you may be wondering: what does this case have to do with Toolbox Tuesday? The Toolbox is a full day training program designed to empower educators to use ten “tools” when dealing with disruptive or violent behavior from students with disabilities. I’m proud of the Toolbox and love doing the training. But I like to remind myself and others that the Toolbox represents a very imperfect solution to the problem. The better solution is to address student misconduct in the context of relationships, and meaningful student accountability. Restorative Practices move us in the right direction.
The issue of trauma, and its effect on kids, is sure to get more attention in the future, as it should. And if you think that problems like this are confined to Compton, California, and places like it, let me quote some comments from Amarillo ISD teacher, Shanna Peeples after she was honored as the National Teacher of the Year. In an interview with The Texas Tribune, she was asked if she sees trauma in her classroom, she said:
Totally. That is the most woefully underfunded need of students. It is a sort of invisible need that we don’t think about and that is mental health services….We need a dedicated mental health counselor. We see students that have struggled with depression, severe anxiety, what really seems like post-traumatic stress disorder. They have seen horrible things, and that’s not just my refugee students. That includes regular students growing up with domestic violence.
Safety is the number one thing you have to deal with children in trauma. They have to feel physically safe and emotionally safe. You can’t learn when you are terrified.
That is something I hope to bring more attention to in this position. There are particular needs for students in trauma and how trauma is related to poverty.
It would be great if Texas would listen to Ms. Peeples, the National Teacher of the Year. It would be great if we would create and support trauma-sensitive schools without the pressure of a lawsuit. Moving toward Restorative Practices is the right thing to do.
DAWG BONE: MOVING BEYOND THE TOOLBOX TO RESTORATIVE PRACTICES IS THE RIGHT THING TO DO.