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Fariña on McDonald’s beating: ‘outraged would be an understatement’

In a memo to principals, Chancellor Carmen Fariña said the recent beating of a teenager in a Brooklyn McDonald’s is an example of why schools must focus some of their energy on teaching “moral and ethical responsibility.”

“To say that I was outraged would be an understatement,” Fariña wrote. “As a mother, grandmother, and an educator, what I saw on that video served as a stark reminder that our young people need more than an academic education in our schools.”

The video, which shows a 15-year-old girl being attacked by a group as bystanders watch, spread widely last week and sparked outrage from community groups. The girls were identified as attending school on the Erasmus campus near the Flatbush McDonald’s where the fight occurred. The Daily News reported this week that five suspects have been arrested.

In her memo, Fariña noted that the Department of Education is working to increase the use of restorative discipline practices, which take the form student justice panels, peer mediation programs, or “restorative circles” in some city schools. Those techniques teach students how to resolve disputes in a healthy way, she said.

“By incorporating restorative approaches and social-emotional learning techniques, we can create a valuable foundation of safety, trust, honor, openness, respect, and empowerment for our students,” Fariña wrote.

Here’s the full memo:

Dear Colleagues,

As many of you have heard, an incident occurred last week involving the beating of a 15-year-old girl by a group of other girls, all of whom are public school students in Brooklyn. This violent act was witnessed by multiple other young people – and a few adults – who did not intervene to help but recorded the beating on their phones, cheering and jeering. To say that I was outraged would be an understatement. As a mother, grandmother, and an educator, what I saw on that video served as a stark reminder that our young people need more than an academic education in our schools. Public schools should serve as a place where our young people learn moral and ethical responsibility, as peers, citizens, and human beings.

A few weeks ago, my memo focused on the proposed Discipline Code, and I shared how these changes seek to integrate restorative approaches into student discipline. Regular use of restorative approaches can provide a number of positive changes in a school environment and culture, such as building community, establishing mutual respect, and encouraging student accountability and self-correction. Restorative approaches teach students how to act responsibly and rationally, helping to prevent conflict before it escalates. One example is the restorative circle process wherein students build community, take responsibility for their actions, make decisions together, and develop agreements for the resolution of classroom issues. Students learn how to express themselves to their peers, acknowledge others’ perspectives, and come to a mutually-beneficial solution, empowering them to handle their own disputes in a healthy and productive way. See the section on restorative approaches in the proposed Discipline Code here to learn more about the circle process, collaborative negotiation, peer mediation, and formal restorative conferences.

For staff, there are two programs that are very effective in calming a crisis situation, both of which help school staff address behavioral problems and the needs of our students: Therapeutic Crisis Intervention (TCIS) and Life Space Crisis Intervention (LSCI). Our Office of Safety and Youth Development (OSYD) will be providing professional development on TCIS over the next three years; LSCI professional development is currently offered. To find out more about these programs and available professional development, email osydprofdev@schools.nyc.gov.

Finally, it is no secret that I am a big fan of social-emotional learning as a complement to traditional instruction, and I have been impressed with the creative ways in which you all have sought to incorporate these techniques in your schools. I would like to emphasize that this is just as important for students in older grades as it is for our younger students. Please consult your guidance counselors or OSYD to identify ways in which your staff might incorporate social-emotional learning strategies into everyday teaching practices. A Monday professional development session could serve as time to share and discuss these practices with your staff.

While the incident in Brooklyn did not take place on school grounds, it involved public school students. As adults who interact with these young people regularly, we have an opportunity as educators to make a difference in the way they grow and develop and to inform the way they make smart choices both in and out of school. By incorporating restorative approaches and social-emotional learning techniques, we can create a valuable foundation of safety, trust, honor, openness, respect, and empowerment for our students.

Warm regards,

Carmen Fariña

Chancellor

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