Policy addressing PGH student suspensions shows success

Alexandra Gray, North Campus Editor

A new method of addressing student misbehavior in the classroom has proven to reduce suspensions in Pittsburgh public schools, according to officials. These ‘restorative practices’ aim to calmly and directly speak to a student about the transgression and why it won’t be tolerated in the classroom. Pittsburgh public schools did see an unusual spike in suspensions, which played cause to the change in approach.

Teachers may also employ a ‘responsive circle’ procedure, bringing the teacher, victim, and transgressor gather to talk about the incident, and the intent of each student. This technique was most successful among elementary students, and reduced suspension rates noticeably.

This plan of action, while suitable for younger students, may come across as condescending to upperclassmen. The language used in these techniques is very structured, and almost over-explanatory of the effects of a disobedience, which are most likely obvious to an older student.

Restorative practices aim to correct misbehavior while avoiding removing students from a learning setting.

According to a study by RAND from 2015 to 2017, Pittsburgh public schools saw an 18 percent drop in suspensions overall, while schools not implementing the new policy were met with a rise in suspensions. Co-author of the study, John Engberg adds “without a tool like restorative practices, they don’t know how to maintain order in the classroom, create a climate where everybody feels fairly treated.”

RAND’s study included a survey of teachers’ approval and opinions on the change in procedure, which showed a positive response, taking note of an improved community, and is expected to improve academics in the long-term.

Director of Student Services Reform for Pittsburgh Public Schools, Christine Cray emphasized the payoff of their efforts, “We’ve been working for a long, long time to reduce disparities in suspensions and to have something come along that has really high buy-in and support from educators, and that is getting those outcomes that we’ve been trying so hard to get for our students, is just really exciting to see.”

Despite the change in method, rates of suspended students in cases of violence remain steady. The aim is to avoid pulling students out of school for smaller, less severe offenses that may not be deserving of such a harsh punishment for younger grades.