classroomWith the implementation of new disciplinary policies in schools teachers across the country are reporting feeling less safe in their own classrooms. In Portland schools, new disciplinary policies that aim to reduce the rate of suspensions and expulsions by eliminating zero-tolerance policies. Called “Restorative Justice,” new policies bar teachers from removing disruptive students from their classrooms as a form of disciplinary action.

Since the policy was implemented, over a third of all teachers surveyed felt less safe in their schools, according to the Portland Association of Teachers union. Teachers throughout the Portland Public Schools system are reporting increased incidents in disruptions and even classroom violence as students are learning they will not face consequences for their actions.

What is Restorative Justice?

Restorative justice is a student-centered approach that attempts to shift disciplinary measures from punitive to preventive in order to eliminate what is often referred to as the school-to-prison pipeline. The strategies embraced by this new system encourages students who display behavioral problems to work out issues amongst themselves and with the guidance of teachers and counselors. According to Edutopia,

Restorative justice empowers students to resolve conflicts on their own and in small groups, and it’s a growing practice at schools around the country. Essentially, the idea is to bring students together in peer-mediated small groups to talk, ask questions, and air their grievances. “

By enabling students to resolve issues with the help of teachers, administrators, and other school personnel, these measures seek to reduce suspensions and expulsions which are considered “exclusionary” and therefore harmful. As a result, teachers can only discipline kids who have committed the worst offenses. In some school districts, unruly students cannot be removed from the classroom without the consent of the district supervisor. Teachers have reported having very little ability to control students who exhibit

While the policies have led to a nearly 50% reduction in overall exclusions for Portland students, this does not reflect that the number of disruptive or unruly incidents has declined. Without the necessary resources to achieve success, many schools are struggling with a surge in disciplinary issues; some teachers are even reporting that they have received threats of physical harm from their own students.

Restorative Justice in the Classroom

What does restorative justice look like in practice? Since teachers can no longer suspend, expel, or even keep kids after school for bad behavior, they are now holding “talk circles” in the middle of class so that students can air out their feelings, or scheduling talk circles between students, teachers and parents so that students can confront the students with which they have a problem directly.

This would be all and good if it weren’t for the fact that violent kids are getting away with behaviors that are making students and teachers feel unsafe at nearly all school districts who have adopted these policies. It also takes a considerable amount of time away from actual teaching.

Portland Teachers Report Loss of Control

Since these policies were adopted by PPS, 34% of the nearly 1000 Portland Association of Teachers union members who responded to their survey reported feeling unsafe at school compared to just 14% the year before the policies began. The survey showed that 50% of respondents felt disciplinary guides were not clearly communicated while 42% said they were unaware of a dedicated discipline plan for their schools. Twenty-percent claimed their school lacked a discipline plan.

Of all the teachers surveyed, 47% stated they did not believe consequences for student behavior fit policies and that they do not receive timely feedback or followup to disciplinary referrals. There have also been issues with integrating special education students, and 70% of the teachers surveyed do not trust that supports are adequately addressing unsafe behaviors in this arena.

Teachers across the country have reported being verbally and physically harassed and threatened by students of all ages heightening safety concerns in public schools. Many claim that they feel they are being let down by these policies, which they claim are not working as intended. In some situations, teachers have been physically harmed and have endured serious injuries.  

Teachers deserve to feel safe at school to promote a positive learning environment. If you or a teacher you know has been injured on school property, talk to attorney Richard Rizk of Rizklaw. Learn more about issues impacting safety, well-being, and justice at rizklaw.com. To schedule a confidential appointment to discuss a claim with an attorney, call (503) 245-5677 or email info@rizklaw.com.