discipline policy

City preparing to expand restorative justice programs

PHOTO: Jackie Schechter

The city is poised to dramatically expand restorative justice programs aimed at improving school climate and rethinking school discipline next year.

The head of the Department of Education’s Office of Safety and Youth Development verbally committed to provide new support for restorative justice programs at a May meeting about school discipline issues, according to two attendees. Though few details of the expansion have been finalized, the agreement represents the administration’s first step toward enacting discipline policy changes that Chancellor Carmen Fariña and Mayor Bill de Blasio have both called for.

On Friday, a department spokeswoman said officials had been consulting with a number of organizations focused on school discipline, including Dignity in Schools. The New York chapter has been meeting monthly with the safety office to create a plan that would begin in January 2015, according to Elana Eisen-Markowitz, a teacher at the Urban Assembly Bronx Academy of Letters who attended the May meeting.

As opposed to punitive policies like suspension, restorative justice programs such as peer mediation and student justice panels look to change students’ behaviors. Restorative practices often end with resolutions meant to repair relationships, like writing an apology note or helping out a teacher.

Restorative justice is not about trying to replace suspensions entirely, educators stress, but instead about “creating space to support a positive school environment,” as Dignity in Schools Campaign Coordinator Shoshi Chowdhury said.

Implementing these programs school-wide requires funding and training. Dignity in School’s December 2013 proposal outlines a pilot program that would involve 10 schools, each of which would receive $175,000 annually for five years. The money would be used to hire and train restorative justice coordinators and support training for school staff members.

At the May meeting, safety office head Elayna Konstan did not agree to specific dollar amounts, but did suggest increasing the number of schools involved to 20, according to Eisen-Markowitz.

Over the past few years, the Department of Education has been building its capacity to implement restorative justice programs. The department has provided training to teachers from 55 middle and high schools through the Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility, which will be training 45 more schools this July and plans to add another 45 in the fall.

At Flushing International High School, where students hail from over 40 countries, social worker Tania Romero said that restorative practices have decreased incidences of violence between students of different nationalities and allowed for deeper conversations on issues like racism.

“All schools should be entitled to this,” she said.

The details of the current plan—including how schools will be selected and the amount of funding each school will receive—have yet to be finalized. Chowdhury said her organization is hoping to hear a definite plan within the next month.

Ultimately, Dignity in Schools wants to see a restorative justice coordinator at every school in the city. “We understand that overhauling takes time,” Chowdhury said. “It’s not going to happen in a year or two years.”

The Dignity in Schools proposal describes the restorative justice coordinator as a full-time employee tasked with “the sole focus of coordinating a positive, restorative climate and approach to discipline at the school.” The coordinator would implement a mix of restorative justice programs, train school staff, involve students and parents, and collect data to determine program effectiveness.

The department would not comment directly on the restorative justice expansion or provide the number of existing programs citywide. In a statement, a department spokeswoman said that “Identifying alternatives that reduce the need for suspensions is a top priority for Chancellor Fariña.”

She said that the department has been meeting with Dignity in Schools, the NYCLU, the Osborne Association, Urban Youth Collaborative, as well as with Judith Kaye, New York state’s former chief judge who has worked extensively on restorative and juvenile justice efforts, and school principals.

De Blasio called for an expansion of the programs as public advocate, and Fariña noted her desire to expand restorative justice in a speech to 600 principals in May, saying, “Our schools are learning places, not suspension places.”

Meanwhile, the James Baldwin School in Chelsea, which runs a number of restorative justice programs, has plans to hire a restorative justice coordinator regardless of the department’s next move.

“We feel like we have the capacity [for restorative justice] among our teaching staff,” explained Principal Brady Smith. “The piece we feel like we need to enhance is that point person.”

Next week, Chalkbeat will publish in-depth looks at restorative justice programs and suspension policies in New York City. Stay in the loop by signing up for our morning newsletter.

union power

Charter teachers won big in nation’s first strike. What now?

PHOTO: Yana Kunichoff / Chalkbeat
Teachers from Acero charter schools in Chicago protest stalled negotiations Oct. 24, 2018, as they readied to vote on authorizing a strike.

Some 500 unionized teachers joined in the nation’s first charter strike last week, and succeeded in negotiating wage increases, smaller class sizes and a shorter school day. Their gains could foreshadow next year’s citywide contract negotiations — between the Chicago Teachers Union, with its contract expiring in June, and Chicago Public Schools.

“The issue of class size is going to be huge,” said Chris Geovanis, the union’s director of communications. “It is a critically important issue in every school.”

Unlike their counterparts in charters, though, teachers who work at district-run schools can’t technically go on strike to push through a cap on the number of students per class. That’s because the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act defines what issues non-charter public school teachers can bargain over, and what issues can lead to a strike.

An impasse on issues of compensation or those related to working conditions, such as length of the school day or teacher evaluations, could precipitate a strike. But disagreements over class sizes or school closures, among other issues, cannot be the basis for a strike.

The number of students per class has long been a point of contention among both district and charter school teachers.

Educators at Acero had hopes of pushing the network to limit class sizes to 24-28 students, depending on the grade. However, as Acero teachers capped their fourth day on the picket line, they reached an agreement with the charter operator on a cap of 30 students — down from the current cap of 32 students.

Andy Crooks, a special education apprentice, also known as a teacher’s aide, at Acero’s Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz school and a member of the teachers bargaining team, said that even having two fewer students in a classroom would make a huge difference.

“You really do get a lot more time with your students,” Crooks said. “And if you are thinking about kindergarten in particular, two less 5-year-olds really can help set the tone of the classroom.”

In district-run schools, classes are capped at 28 students in kindergarten through third grade, and at 31 students in fourth through sixth grade. But a survey by the advocacy group Parents 4 Teachers, which supports educators taking on inequality, found that during the 2017-2018 school year, 21 percent of K-8 classrooms had more students than district guidelines allowed. In 18 elementary school classrooms, there were 40 or more students.

The issue came up at last week’s Board of Education meeting, at which Ivette Hernandez, a parent of a first-grader at Virgil Grissom Elementary School in the city’s Hegewisch neighborhood, said her son’s classes have had more than 30 students in them. When the children are so young and active — and when they come into classrooms at so many different skill levels — “the teachers can’t handle 30 kids in one class,” she told the board.

Alderman Sue Garza, a former counselor, accompanied Hernandez. She also spoke before the board about classroom overcrowding — worrying aloud that, in some grades at one school in particular, the number of students exceeded the building’s fire codes. (Board chair Frank Clark said a district team would visit the school to ensure compliance fire safety policies.)

While the Chicago Teachers Union aren’t technically allowed to strike over class sizes, the union does have a history of pushing the envelope when it comes to bargaining.

Back in 2012, when the Chicago Teachers Union last went on strike, they ended up being able to secure the first limit on class sizes in 20 years because the district permitted the union to bargain over class size.

They also led a bargaining campaign that included discussion over racial disparities in Chicago education and school closures, arguing that these trends impacted the working conditions of teachers.

“Even if you can’t force an employer to bargain over an issue, you can push them to bargain over the impact of an issue,” Bob Bruno, a labor professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, explained.

The Chicago Teachers Union also emerged from its 2012 negotiations with guarantees of additional “wraparound services,” such as access to onsite social workers and school counselors.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

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