Last week in the Washoe County School District, a melee broke out behind Wooster High School resulting in two arrests, injuries, and a code yellow lockdown resulting in staggered release times. This week, the Washoe County School Board approved panic buttons for teachers and staff.
According to a report by NPR, there have been roughly 8,300 calls from Clark County schools to police dispatch reporting incidents of violence, up by some 1,300 compared to the entire 2018-2019 school year. Panic buttons were also recently approved by the Clark County School board.
In 2019, Restorative Justice was signed into law through AB 168 changing state statutes related to student disciplinary actions and remedies in order to combat the “racial disparities” in expulsions and end the “school to prison pipeline.” The bill received bipartisan support and was signed into law by Governor Steve Sisolak.
According to the Nevada Department of Education, AB 168 requires each school district to complete Restorative Discipline Plans, formally known as Progressive Discipline Plans. Restorative Practices (RP) is an alternative to exclusionary disciplinary practices which removed students from the academic environment; instead, restorative justice seeks to repair the harm done when a standard of conduct is violated.
The law created some restrictions against removing, expelling or suspending students who are 11 years old or younger and those who receive special education services under an Individualized Education Program (IEP). It also prohibited removing, suspending or expelling students solely for offenses related to attendance or truancy, according to a memo by the Nevada Department of Education. It also changed language in state statute that said students “must” be expelled for committing battery that results in bodily injury of an employee to “may be expelled.”
At that time, Assemblywoman Selena Torres, a primary sponsor of AB 168 and a public charter school teacher, explained to the Nevada Independent:
“Under restorative justice practices, students are encouraged to take ownership of their actions by asking themselves what led up to their behavior and understanding how it affected others. Students are also given the opportunity to remedy the harm their misconduct has caused, and think about how they can prevent it from repeating in the future.
These are strategies that Torres, who’s also a Las Vegas public charter school teacher, said she uses in her own classroom.
“It’s about having conversations with our students like, ‘Why did we have that behavior? What could we have done differently? Moving forward, what are we going to do?” she said.”
Critics of restorative justice practices maintain that those questions would be better left for the parents or guardian of the student and teachers should be teaching, not doing.
Assm. Torres has now sponsored new legislation, Assembly Bill 285, which eliminates the age requirement of eleven years old for expulsion, transfers the responsibility of creating a restorative justice plan from the school to the school board, and maintains the disciplinary requirements related to “progressive discipline” and restorative justice.
An alternate remedy to the increase in violence in schools also comes in the form of Assembly Bill 194 which authorizes the suspension, expulsion or permanent expulsion of a pupil of any age who commits a battery or assault against an employee of a school or another pupil while on the premises of any public school, at an activity sponsored by a public school or on a school bus.
The bill also authorizes the permanent expulsion of a pupil who is at least 11 years of age who sells or distributes any controlled substance while on the premises of any public school, at an activity sponsored by a public school or on a school bus. Existing law authorizes the suspension, expulsion or permanent expulsion of a pupil with a disability if the pupil is at least 11 years of age.
As the legislators shuffle the restorative justice chairs on the proverbial Titanic, these bills do recognize the need for the expulsion of problematic students and shift the rightful responsibility onto the parents or guardians.
These bills will be heard today in front of the Assembly Committee on Education.
The Globe has reached out to the legislative sponsors of these bills. If a comment is received, the story will be updated.
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