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Restorative discipline could help better schools

The word discipline means the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience.  The punishment that many students seem to be facing? Suspension.

Based on this punishment and the fact that all it does is push students out of school, it appears that the disciplinary response of many “punishable” behaviors does not accomplish the meaning of “discipline.” Instead of teaching each student to do better and fix their errors, suspension just gives them days off of school.

Senior Camryn Williams believes that by doing so, nothing is really accomplished.

“I think PG County discipline system is honestly a scam,” said Williams. “It makes no sense to tell kids to take a break from school after they just skipped school. That is not teaching the child anything.”

A very different approach that has seen much success in school districts across the country, like Chicago and Baltimore public schools, is known as restorative discipline.

According to the Institute for Restorative Justice and Restorative Dialogue,  restorative discipline “seeks to build a national mindset that embraces restorative justice principles [by] healing the harm from wrongdoing by defining accountability and building our community.”

Currently, in PGCPS, restorative discipline is being touched on, but not implemented entirely.

In a restorative discipline setting, instead of being suspended, a student would be put in in-school suspension for a limited amount of time for a “physical attack” on another student and would also have to participate in mediation with that student.

At Parkdale in particular, Coach Watson, who serves as a security guard and the Girls’ Basketball head coach, is attempting to move towards a more meditative approach to conflict.

In addition to Coach Watson, Parkdale athletic director Coach Moore has also been in the works of creating a peer mediation group, which would consist of students who want to help others solve their conflicts.

According to the Department of State Health Services, “The school system has a three-day limit on suspensions for students who have committed “soft offenses,” such as disrespect, insubordination and disruptions in class. The previous policy did not specify maximum penalties for such offenses, leaving it up to the schools to decide.

As a result, Prince George’s had 13,951 suspensions during the 2012-2013 school year, down 1,664 from the previous year”.

The changes in Prince George’s are in line with proposed school discipline regulations being considered by Maryland state education officials. Local school boards are being asked to move away from zero-tolerance punishments and to scale back the number of suspensions. Educators worry that students are losing critical instruction time because of suspensions and are falling behind their peers.

However, with the implementation of peer mediation in the short-term and possibly restorative discipline in the long-run, Parkdale could be seeing a turnaround in student behavior.