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Restorative justice: One high school's path to reducing suspensions by half

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Time is also set aside for teachers, principals, even security officers to learn to respond more effectively to students, ideally before a suspendable offense happens.

"We've become reliant on distancing as a way to manage conflict. That's what a suspension is – I can't manage you, so I move you away," says Barbara McClung, OUSD'S coordinator of behavioral health initiatives. "Because of the cultural and class differences between our students and our educational system, there's a lot of conflict, [so] we have to build our capacity to use other means to resolve those conflicts."

Offense is in the eye of the beholder?

Among the most common reasons students are sent out of class at Oakland High School are disruption and defiance – refusing to participate, using profanity, arguing with the teacher or another student, or even walking around class, ignoring teacher instruction to do otherwise.

Within the first 15 minutes of one recent class, a teacher at Oakland High kicked out six of the seven African-American students in the class for disruption and defiance.

An assistant principal talked with the students about their behavior – but also sat down with the teacher to encourage him to try to engage his students in the class, rather than being so quick to remove them.

"Ours is a work in progress, from the teacher end and the student end," says Oakland High Principal Jeff Rogers, who is working to convince more staff that discipline is about teaching self-discipline.

"What we're fighting right now are people who ... [want to] eliminate those students from the formula that are going to make them look bad, or are going to require extra effort," Mr. Rogers says.

It's often more effective to work with students, perhaps through counseling during an in-school suspension, he says. "The danger is when we start throwing the kids away."

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