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New Discipline Rules Ineffective Without Training, Support, L.A. Teachers Say

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As schools around the country rewrite discipline policies to reduce reliance on suspensions and expulsions, critics of such changes raise a common concern: Removing suspensions as a response to many offenses takes a valuable tool out of teachers' toolboxes and may lead to chaotic learning environments as defiant students' behavior goes unchallenged by adults.

Some teachers in Los Angeles believe that concern is a reality in their classrooms, the Los Angeles Times reports. But it's not because the policies shouldn't have been implemented in the first place, they say. Rather, they maintain their district moved to limit suspensions and expulsions without ensuring that teachers were trained on what to do instead and without giving them the resources to follow through, teachers union representatives told the Times.

It's a concern raised in some other school systems, too.

Los Angeles, the nation's second-largest school system "was the first in California to ban suspensions for defiance and announced plans to roll out an alternative known as restorative justice, which seeks to resolve conflicts through talking circles and other methods to build trust," the Times writes.

"The shift has brought dramatic changes: Suspensions districtwide plummeted to 0.55% last school year compared with 8% in 2007-08, and days lost to suspension also plunged, to 5,024 from 75,000 during that same period, according to the most recent data," it says. 

L.A. Superintendent Ramon Cortines told the Times he shares some of the teachers' concerns. While he supports the new policies, largely implemented by past Superintendent John Deasy, he "compared the implementation to the flawed effort to equip students and teachers with Apple tablets," the paper reports.

"You cannot piecemeal this kind of thing and think it is going to have the impact that it should have. Don't make a political statement and then don't have the wherewithal to back it up," Cortines said.

Schools that have been provided the resources, training, and staff to implement alternatives, such as restorative circles, have reported success, even in high-need areas like Watts, the paper reported. But district officials said only a third of the district's 900 campuses have had training under the district's five-year restorative justice plan.

Los Angeles is not alone in this. This spring I wrote about a Portland, Ore., school that drew complaints from parents when it required students to perform janitorial duties as an alternative to suspensions.  At the time, some parents and school board members complained that the district has put pressure on schools to reduce suspensions, even including the goal in its performance evaluations for principals, but principals were "largely on their own" to determine how to reduce discipline rates.

When Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a sweeping school discipline bill this fall, the move won praise from student activists who said zero-tolerance policies and classroom removals are counterproductive and disproportionately affect students of color. But some readers told me they feared some schools may struggle to implement alternatives.

If your district has changed its discipline policies, what did leaders do to ensure that teachers and administrators were prepared for the changes? If your state has changed its laws on discipline, do districts feel prepared to implement such changes?

Further reading on discipline and school climate:

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