SEEN Weekly Update – Let’s Explore Discipline!

Dear SEEN Community,

This week’s email is brought to you by SEEN’s Practices, Procedures, and Operations Committee.  We are a group of 6 community members (Patricia Farrell, Alexis Katz, Kelly Sheppard, Caroline Smith, Jennifer Redman, and Leigh Wilton) who meet monthly.

During SEEN’s first community-wide meeting way back in June 2020, we were struck by the disproportionate rates of in-school and out-of-school suspensions for students of color in our district. According to an article in the Daily Gazette from June 2019, Black students, who are only 2% of the student population in the Saratoga Springs School District, were 9 times more likely to be suspended than White students. This statistic propelled us to dive deeper into the district’s disciplinary practices. 

Our hope is to provide a brief summary of current disciplinary practices and provide links for more information if you are interested. We also wanted to pique your curiosity about Restorative Justice Practices that are being implemented with great success in many school districts around the country, including in some neighboring districts. We hope parents and community members can come together in conversation and support our students’ meaningful and reflective participation in the community.

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) 

PBIS is an evidence-based framework used in the elementary schools and Maple Avenue Middle School to foster positive behavior and safety. The focus is on prevention rather than punishment, and on reducing exclusionary discipline that removes students from the classroom (e.g., office referrals, suspensions, restraint, and seclusion). PBIS puts the focus on educating, preventing problems, and using logical consequences through a three-tiered approach.

Learn More About PBIS

Social Emotional Learning (SEL)

SEL is defined by CASEL (Collaborative Association for Social and Emotional Learning) as “[t]he process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

The curriculum focuses on enhancing development in 5 overlapping areas of children’s cognitive, emotional and behavioral development. They are self-awareness, self-management, decision making, relationship skills, and social-awareness.

Learn More About SEL

Critique of PBIS and SEL

One of the critiques of PBIS and SEL is that they are “colorblind” in their failure to consider how power, privilege, cultural differences, and structural biases impact learning as well as the administration of academic discipline. Another critique is that these models focus on the students and not on the adults around them, or on the ecology of the school. This is problematic because educators and parents have a huge impact on students, for better or worse, and their biased-based beliefs and discriminatory practices profoundly affect students’ school experiences.  

Restorative Justice

Restorative Justice (RJ) is a model of community healing that weaves together restitution and racial justice. Restorative justice has long been practiced among the First Nations people in Canada and the Maori of New Zealand. Howard Zehr’s book about RJ in 1990 was one of the first to describe RJ through a Western lens. The RJ framework posits that crimes are viewed as violations of people and relationships and responses need to address both directly. Paired with SEL and PBIS, RJ approaches can narrow the racial discipline gap. 

Learn More About Restorative Justice

Where Do We Go From Here?

We are interested in learning what has changed in our district over the past few years to address the racial discipline gap. There are teachers and administrators in our district who have been trained in RJ practices and have been offering RJ-based interventions already. How can we, as parents and community members, provide support and resources for them? We are interested in continuing to learn more about RJ from them, from neighboring districts that have begun their own training, and from national experts.

Is it possible that we do not need to reinvent the wheel and that what is working here on a small scale and on a larger scale in other places across the country might help us create some meaningful change?

Action Steps

  • Click here for additional resources to become more informed about the current systems and possible new ones.
  • Speak to your children and teachers to learn how PBIS and SEL are being implemented in the classroom and school.
  • Support educators and administrators who are interested in Restorative Justice work in the school.

~ The SEEN Team

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