‘Prioritizing the perpetrator over the classroom’: Parents group warns nearly 500 school districts nationwide use ‘restorative justice’

School violence is on the rise, and one parent group is blaming restorative justice policies for the widespread brutality.

Parents Defending Education (PDE) released a list on Monday of 469…

School violence is on the rise, and one parent group is blaming restorative justice policies for the widespread brutality.

Parents Defending Education (PDE) released a list on Monday of 469 school districts that codified restorative justice in their disciplinary policies and/or codes of conduct.

The nearly 500 school districts represent over 18,000 individual schools and over 11 million students.

“[Restorative justice has] been shown to erode school culture, teacher morale, and a sense of safety in schools,” Erika Sanzi, director of outreach at PDE, told The Lion.

“This isn’t to say they never have a place with small infractions – like when my curious and fidgety student completely disassembled my stapler – but unfortunately, schools have overly relied on restorative justice for chronic disruption, bullying and even violence.”

Restorative justice focuses on reconciliation between victim and offender rather than punitive measures, and some claim it’s more effective than traditional discipline at reducing violence. 

The National Education Association (NEA) cites research in which restorative justice policies led to a decrease in both in-school and out-of-school arrests, as well as fewer suspensions. 

The NEA even claims suspending or expelling students worsens their academic prospects and argues students’ brains aren’t developed enough to consider the consequences of their actions. 

But PDE contends even when restorative justice is employed, misbehavior still occurs – it just isn’t being punished.  

“School districts have been under immense pressure to eliminate racial disparities in discipline, particularly suspensions,” Sanzi explained. “Rather than face a federal investigation, they manipulate their discipline data.” 

Back in 2014, for example, the Obama administration threatened school districts with federal investigations if their data showed a “disparate impact” – higher rates of discipline for students of certain races. 

The Trump administration later repealed the policy in 2018, only to have the Biden administration reinstate it. 

But between 2013 and 2018, national suspension and expulsion rates changed.  

Overall, suspension rates went down by 6% and expulsions by 9%. But the rates for white students stayed virtually the same. 

Black students were suspended 10% less but expelled 11% more, and Hispanic students were suspended 12.5% less but expelled 6.6% more.  

On the other hand, other demographics of students, such as multiracial or Native American, had increased suspension rates but decreased expulsion rates. 

And while that data seems mixed, the outcomes for students were not. 

According to the Department of Education, those years saw a 42% increase in sexual violence. 

Other evidence from 2009-2020 showed an increase in student racial/ethnic tensions and “widespread disorder in classrooms.”  

The same data found rates of cyberbullying had doubled, as had students verbally and nonverbally abused teachers.  

Anecdotal evidence supports the hard data. 

One 74-year-old teacher from Indiana, for example, was given a gruesome black eye and other head injuries when a large male student attacked him.  

A Tennessee educator was pepper-sprayed for taking away a student’s phone, and a third teacher in Ohio was assaulted so violently she required “major brain surgery.”  

Other districts have seen violence so awful that parents tried to oust the superintendent, students organized walkouts, and school administrators even tried to call in the National Guard.  

“We need to move away from prioritizing the perpetrator of the bad behavior over the classrooms full of kids who are ready to learn,” Sanzi concluded. “Teachers feel unsupported and too many students are trapped in chronically disruptive classrooms.  

“There is no justification for worrying more about discipline data than the safety of students and staff.”