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Minority Students Who Disrupt School Deserve Charity, Biden DOJ Says

In what comes across as a lecture rather than an empirical analysis, U.S. President Joe Biden’s Department of Justice (DOJ) says public schools nationwide must treat students of color who disrupt class more leniently.

Biden’s DOJ recommends that schools implement what are known as Restorative Justice practices. The theory of Restorative Justice, the DOJ said, seeks to rehabilitate offenders rather than punish them.

“Although challenging, U.S. schools need to address their role in perpetuating systemic inequities in schools and discipline to implement meaningful change,” according to the report, which the DOJ published late last month.

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“A first step could be to identify how their discipline policies are contributing to the over-representation of students of color in special education classes, which has been linked to the school-to-prison pipeline for these youth. A critical second step is to have ongoing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training for all staff, teachers, and paraprofessionals to address topics such as implicit bias, cultural humility, and trauma-informed care.”

Public schools in California, Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania have already adopted Restorative Justice programs, the report said.

DOJ staff members said Restorative Justice and Restorative Practices can reduce instances of student misbehavior. The report admits, however, that these practices have not reduced instances of bullying and absenteeism, nor have they increased average academic performance.

“In addition to concerns about general effectiveness, amid the Black Lives Matter and racial justice movements, the model of using police officers in school is under fire in many school districts,” the DOJ report said.

“Research shows that students of color report fewer benefits and less favorable attitudes toward the presence of police in schools, perhaps due to trauma associated with being historically overpoliced and underprotected by law enforcement. Black and brown students who attend schools with a police presence experience heightened rates of mental health problems, such as anxiety, stress, and fear, as well as decreased academic performance.”

The findings of this report, however, clash with a recent Associated Press (AP) story. Teachers who must interact with students where Restorative Justice programs are already implemented now urge school administrators to take a “harder line on discipline.”

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“More students have been acting out, and some school systems have faced questions from teachers, parents and lawmakers about whether a gentle approach can effectively address problems that disrupt classrooms,” the AP reported.

“The latest example came this week in Newport News, Virginia, where teachers complained at a school board meeting that the school system where a 6-year-old shot his teacher had become too lenient with students. Students who assaulted staff were routinely allowed to stay in the classroom, they said, because of a misguided focus on keeping them in school.”

The AP went on to say that Restorative Justice programs increased school violence in Nevada and enabled one high school student in Georgia to assault a teacher.

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