The paper hanging inside a second-floor classroom at Garfield High School spoke more pointedly than a raft of research articles about student frustration with traditional approaches to school discipline.
Under the question, “Why are you here?” 16 teens willing to devote weeks to getting trained as restorative justice mediators offered their answers:
“Healing harms,” one student said. “Unequal treatment,” added another. “Injustice toward students.”
School discipline in Seattle is so lopsided — with black students suspended at five times the rate of whites — that the federal Office for Civil Rights is investigating. But educators, parents and students, impatient with the slow pace of an inquiry that has been ongoing since 2012, are moving ahead with a solution known as restorative justice, which aims to repair harm, rather than focus solely on punishment.
“Everybody agrees that the system we have is not working,” said Garfield Principal Ted Howard. “We can’t afford to suspend kids for 10 days — do they ever catch up? I’ll tell you, it was a bitter pill for me, as a black man, to look at the data.”
In the past month, the urgency for a better answer has echoed up to the highest levels of King County government. King County Council member Larry Gossett said: “The jury is still out on how well restorative justice projects will lower suspensions and expulsions in our schools. But this holds some solid promise. And I am going to be one of those pushing for it more.”More