Pinellas Schools are failing to implement Restorative Justice Practices and our children are suffering

Leslie Walbolt, mother of a child at Perkins Elementary School, and Chrisandra Harris, mother of children at Pinellas Park High School and Melrose Elementary School, are members of the Youth Suspensions and Arrests Committee for Faith and Action for Strength Together (FAST). They are pictured here at the Restorative Justice Practices Conference in Louisville, Ky.

In reaction to Tampa Bay Times article “Student discipline debated”

Dear Editor:

A recent Tampa Bay Times article exposed that Pinellas County still has serious behavior problems in many schools. However, this is not a failure of Restorative Justice Practices (RP). It is a failure of the Pinellas County School District to properly implement the initiative and give teachers the needed resources.

If RP were properly implemented, then disciplinary referrals would not be suppressed. Other school districts, such as Pittsburgh and Louisville, Ky., which we visited, are having great successes in lowering disciplinary referrals while creating a secure climate.

Our district needs to allocate the same resources that these districts did by bringing in real RP experts over the course of the year and not relying on a “train the trainer” model.  Three key components shown to work in other districts are missing that would facilitate an effective implementation: ongoing coaching, restorative conference training, and a measured evaluation process.

Restorative conferencing is especially vital to ensure that children face real sanctions for misbehavior.

School Board members Carr, Cane and Lentino met with 2,500 parents at the FAST Nehemiah Action to hear these concerns. Since then, they have all been voicing concerns about the RP implementation.

However, their voices need to become louder, and the other school board members need to join with them in demanding that experts are hired to oversee the RP implementation.

Over time, RP works to change school culture by fostering a welcoming and safe environment for students to learn and teachers to teach and listen without screaming and shouting, stopping under-the-table suspensions.

It accomplishes this by providing tools for students and teachers to use when addressing conflict while holding students accountable for their actions. Teachers discover the root causes of why their students act out, and students begin to trust and open up to their teachers. Everyone feels valued as members of the school community, and discipline problems decrease.

As parents of children in the Pinellas County School District, we want our schools to be safe, equitable places for our kids to learn. Teachers deserve our support, and all students deserve success. Quality implementation of RP in our schools would help the district meet these goals.

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