Restorative justice is like communism. It keeps failing, but its defenders insist that “true” restorative justice hasn’t been tried yet.
On Tuesday, Superintendent Jesus Jara unveiled the Clark County School District’s new plan to stem school violence. Instead of coddling troublemakers, he’s going to let principals discipline them.
“Fighting that results in significant campus disruption will be a recommended expulsion from school,” Jara said. “All major disciplinary infractions will result in a recommended expulsion with removal from a comprehensive school campus with an opportunity for re-engagement.”
The obvious question: Wasn’t this happening already? No. Which helps explain why school violence has soared. Allowing students who commit violent acts to stay on campus might seem completely insane to you. That’s because you’re a normal person who understands that teenagers respond to incentives. As I wrote two weeks ago, “When you don’t punish kids for doing wrong, you get more wrongdoing.”
But district officials, led by Jara, have spent years pursing “restorative justice.” That approach exchanges punitive disciplinary measures for things such as healing circles and peer mediation. In theory, restorative justice creates strong relationships and a sense of community within a school. Because students feel like they belong, the theory goes, they won’t hurt other people.
Sometimes people are so “educated” that they forget common sense. Under restorative justice, students soon realize that there aren’t practical consequences for misbehavior. As expulsions and suspensions drop, violence increases.
These results were so predictable that I predicted them. In September 2019.
“When it comes to student discipline, Jara should have focused efforts on improving student behavior,” I wrote. “Instead, he has the district looking at how teachers and administrators respond to troublemakers. … It’s dangerous if suspensions go down simply because district bigwigs deny that tool to school administrators.”
If the district is serious about zero tolerance for fighting, there will be a decrease in fights. After years of lax discipline, it’s unlikely the change will be immediate. It will happen, however, if the district enforces the rules with consequences.
Unfortunately, uncertaintly remains about the district’s resolve. Jara also said Tuesday that restorative practices “do work” and he wants to “double down” on them.
George Orwell couldn’t have written it any better. You see, restorative justice works so well that Jara had to abandon restorative practices for the punitive discipline measures that he once implied were racist. Just weeks ago, district officials were bragging about decreases in discretionary expulsions and juvenile justice referrals.
No student has the right to beat up another student. Send troublemakers to behavioral school. To his credit, Jara said the right thing on that. “We must continue to provide a free and public education, but it doesn’t have to be in our comprehensive schools,” he said.
That’s not a restorative justice mindset, but real disciplinary measures will have the benefit of reducing on-campus violence.
Contact Victor Joecks at email@example.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.