[Another school year begins Monday for tens of thousands of Miami-Dade public school students, which means new friends, new teachers and — for the first time — an entirely new approach to discipline.
Instead of booting kids from school for serious disruptions, a move which often leads to troubled students finding more trouble, Miami-Dade is aiming to become one of the largest districts in the country to end out-of-school suspensions.
With growing evidence that tough discipline policies don’t work, the district is instead turning to more counselors, character development and an overhaul of the student code of conduct to address misbehavior — approaches that will include keeping kids in class or in-school programs.
“We often deal with the behavior at the expense of the kid, and this is a way of flipping the approach,” Superintendent Alberto Carvalho told the Miami Herald’s editorial board.
The shift will take extensive re-training and a massive culture change in a school district that suspended 36,000 students in 2013-2014, almost enough to fill every seat in the Marlins Park baseball stadium. A disproportionate number of those students were black.
One notorious example of what can happen: Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old from Miami Gardens, was serving out a suspension from school in 2012 when he was killed by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman in Sanford — a case that sparked a national debate about self-defense and racial profiling.
“There has been a racial injustice problem in Miami-Dade for several years,” said Thomas Mariadason, a lawyer with the civil rights group Advancement Project, which has been pushing Miami-Dade for new discipline policies. “These are very bold moves, no doubt about it. They are also, for the community, desperately needed moves.”
The stakes — and potential benefits — are high. Researchers know that even one suspension can put a student off-course in school. But in districts that have piloted discipline alternatives, including Broward County, graduation rates often rise and arrest rates tumble.
“This is not about student discipline,” said Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie. “This is about student achievement.”]
[…Advocacy groups are keeping a particularly close eye on the district’s plan to try out what are called “restorative justice” programs in two schools this year — Brownsville and Cutler Bay middle.
Restorative justice programs usually focus on small groups that bring together students, including the offender and the victim, to talk out problems.
“It’s about teachers, counselors and how they relate to students, and vice versa. It’s about shifting the culture,” said Ruth Jeannoel, lead organizer at the local Power U.
Power U is an advocacy organization that has been pushing for restorative justice programs in Miami-Dade schools for almost a decade. One of the keys for successful implementation will be training, Jeannoel said. That goes for the whole school: teachers and administrators.
“We can’t end out of school suspensions without giving teachers a tool to deal with conflict in the schools,” she said.
The organization, which works with the national civil rights organization Advancement Project, also wants to make sure kids and parents are included in the changes taking place.
“They’re the ones who have been directly impacted by this and have been asking for this for almost a decade,” Jeannoel said.]
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Title: As school year starts, Miami-Dade rolls out a new approach to student discipline
By: Christina Veiga
Date: August 22nd, 2015