Teachers, parents call for CPS restorative justice, not metal detectors
Published: Monday, April 16, 2012
Updated: Monday, April 16, 2012 12:04
Walk into a Chicago Public high school and you’re likely to see two things: a metal detector and a police adjustment station.
“What that tells students is ‘you’re gonna screw up, and we’re ready to book you when you do,’” said Lynn Morton, co-chair of POWER-PAC, a council for Chicago Public Schools’ parent leaders.
Parents, students, administrators and activists gathered in Roosevelt’s Murray-Green library last Friday for a discussion panel on CPS restorative justice. The panel focused on how to make schools safer for girls and LGBTQ students. The discussion was led by members from CReATE, Chicagoland Researchers and Advocates for Transformational Education, and moderated by local Sun-Times columnist and award-winning political reporter, Laura Washington.
The aim of restorative justice, as Jean Klasovsky, a teacher at Farragut Career Academy in Little Village explained, helps to correct and prevent behaviors as opposed to disciplining students with suspension and expulsion.
“Restorative justice works on repairing the relationship between the student and the school after the incident,” said Klasovsky, who presides on a Farragut peer jury. The peer jury consists of trained students who deal with low-level infractions by asking what happened, why, who was hurt, and what needs to be done to repair the situation.
“The perpetrator is given an opportunity to use their skills to make it up to their peers, so they feel a part of the society and is less likely to repeat the infraction than if they had just been suspended,” Klasovsky said.
It’s not common for budget-strapped public schools to prefer the cost-effective punitive system over a time-consuming restorative justice approach, according to Klasovsky.
Morton continues to witness the problems of not investing time to prevent violence and bullying firsthand. She says on an average year, there have been 350 suspensions in her son’s kindergarten-fifth grade school.
“Down the street, neighbors have told me that 350 is nothing,” Morton said. “At another school, it was 500 suspensions in one year. Is that a punishment that kindergarteners can even understand?”
According to reports released by the public-school advocacy organization High HOPES Coalition, a zero-tolerance school environment can lead to more troubling issues, such as student manipulation and harassment, especially for girls and LGBTQ youth.
“I’ve heard of so many cases where young girls are sexually harassed, and the
explanation is just: ‘boys will be boys,’ ” said Ana Mercado, an advocate for the High
HOPES Coalition. “Unfortunately, students who are in zero-tolerance schools don’t feel safe enough to talk to their administrators, in fear of retaliation.”
Josh Wiersema, a Roosevelt communications student was bullied in high school for being homosexual. He still can remember what was worst about his experience.
“A student made a hurtful remark in front of me and a former boyfriend, and the teacher who was present laughed at it,” Wiersema said. “We talked so much about restorative justice for students, but why aren’t we doing the same for teachers who contribute just as much to these issues?”
Klasovsky offers a key suggestion to establish safe spaces for students: make alliances with teachers and staff who have had training in LGBTQ issues and intergenerational understanding.
Morton ended the panel advocating for change in the public school system, and called CPS’ chief executive Jean-Claude Brizard on his lack of fulfillment on his promise for restorative justice change.
“It’s about preventing violence from happening in our schools, not dealing with it after the fact,” said Morton.
In order to make Roosevelt a safer place for all students, RU Proud is hosting its annual Ally Training workshop this year on Friday, April 20 in AUD 320 at 9:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Contact Lucas Barnhill at firstname.lastname@example.org for questions.