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EDITORIAL: CCSD admits punitive discipline keeps students safe

The Clark County School District is finally acknowledging what’s been obvious for years. Keeping teachers and students safe requires discipline.

The Board of Trustees recently heard a presentation on student suspensions and expulsions. Reducing both numbers has been a goal of Superintendent Jesus Jara since he was hired in 2018. In his Focus 2024 plan, he set a goal of reducing student suspensions from 30,008 in the 2017-18 school year to under 18,000 by 2022-23. He also wanted to reduce discretionary expulsion referrals in middle and high school by around 60 percent.

He didn’t succeed. Last year, the number of suspensions and expulsions was nearly identical to the 2018-19 school year.

It wasn’t for lack of trying. After being hired, one of Mr. Jara’s priorities was reducing disproportionality in discipline. Black and Hispanic students were and still are suspended at far higher rates than white and Asian students.

A 2013 district working group concluded the top cause of this disparity was “bias.”

Like many schools around the country, Mr. Jara embraced a concept known as “restorative justice.” That philosophy replaces punitive discipline with techniques such as healing circles.

In 2019, Mr. Jara fired secondary school deans to close a budget shortfall. One of the deans’ responsibilities was discipline. He eventually relented. Other school administrators decried Jara for taking away the tools they needed to discipline students and keep order. State politicians added their own restorative justice measure in 2019.

While well-intentioned, it was a failure. Predictably, as students realized that schools weren’t enforcing the rules, bad behavior increased. Yet even amid soaring violence, school officials kept bragging about how they were reducing the number of suspensions and expulsions.

Eventually, viral videos of school fights and the sexual assault and attempted murder of a teacher at Eldorado High School forced Mr. Jara to take action. He unveiled enhanced punitive discipline for violent students.

“We want to make these (suspension and expulsion) numbers go in the right direction,” Mike Barton, the district’s chief college, career, equity and school choice officer, said. “But bottom line, we want to continue to keep our schools safe, our teachers safe and other students in the school safe.”

It would be great if suspensions and expulsions declined, but only if it’s driven by improvements in student behavior.

Mr. Jara and the board are measuring the wrong metric. The primary goal should be safety for teachers and students.

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