Getty Images, posted at Time.comAn article called "Do 'Zero Tolerance' School Discipline Policies Go Too Far?" by Sarah Carr of the Hechinger Report appeared at last week. On page 4 of the 6 page story there was this discussion about City Springs Elementary-Middle School in Baltimore, Maryland, where IIRP has worked extensively:

At City Springs Elementary-Middle School, Alonso's push coincided with Principal Rhonda Richetta's decision to introduce a "restorative justice" approach to school discipline: instead of automatically suspending students when there is a problem, staff and students sit together in circles to talk through many thorny and contentious issues. Often, the end result is a punishment tailored to the specific crime.

When one eighth-grader was caught selling BB gun pellets, for instance, Richetta required him to come to school early and sell fruit snacks to younger students. Richetta wanted him to learn that he could earn money through legal means — although in this case, he was required to turn over all proceeds to the school.

Initially, Richetta received significant push-back from teachers. Eight left during the first year restorative justice was implemented, in part because they disliked the shift away from suspension.

"It was really hard for adults to change their behavior, particularly when they were used to the least little infraction resulting in suspension," Richetta says. "In the past, if a child said something disrespectful, that was a suspension. If a child got up and walked out of class, that was a suspension ... The problem is, it's really hard to educate kids when they are not here."

During the 2007–08 school year, City Springs issued about 50 suspensions, compared with 21 this school year as of April 6, even as enrollment has grown significantly. But Richetta considers the cultural shift inside the building — which she measures through the increased number of students smiling on their way to class in the morning — just as important. "I think people are giving up on our kids because of their behavior," she says. "They are not seeing that that behavior is really reaching out for help."

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