Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Restorative Justice Practices will help us get at the roots.

This is my testimony for the School Reform Commission meeting:

In my time in the District, I've seen clashes between students who come from very different backgrounds. I've also been a part of facilitating cross-cultural dialogues that were incredibly transformative for students and the school community, helping students break stereotypes they held about people of other races and ethnicities, and preventing inter-racial conflict and violence.

The recent attacks on Asian American students at South Philadelphia High School stand as a clear message that a tension exists between students of different backgrounds.

And our response as a District will show what our values are.

We, as educators who are committed to care for all of our students, with you, as adults who are responsible for the development the young people of our city's schools, need to do our jobs. We need to actively intervene, to teach about managing conflict, to guide them in a better way.

If we want these Asian-American students and their peers to be able to attend a school that is safe for them, then we must get to the heart of what true school safety looks like.

A part of school safety is found in holding people accountable for their violent actions, and we can see that the District is taking steps toward this.

However, we at TAG believe that relying solely on punitive interventions -- like enhanced policing, suspensions, and arrests -- only serves to further criminalize students and lock violent behavior into place. This doesn't resolve the fundamental issues at the heart of conflict.

Instead, we believe that we need to show students that because we care about them and their development, we will provide them a path down which to move forward, to find individual transformation and community healing through the basics of talking and listening, learning about each other, validating one another's experiences.

We would like to see the School District establish Restorative Justice Practices to move toward healing in this specific situation of violence, and to get students and faculty at South Philadelphia HS dialoging about race and ethnicity, to explore differences and find points of convergence.

We would like to see resources committed by the District to have professional conflict mediation and prevention programs instituted at South Philadelphia HS, like the programs offered by the International Institute for Restorative Practices that are being used at West Philadelphia HS.

We would like to see the infrastructure provided for the faculty, administration, and student body of South Philadelphia HS to commit themselves to this type of school community transformation, including school-wide training, flexibility in the schedule for community circles, and curriculum for meaningful multicultural understanding.

And, ultimately, we would like to see these practices instituted in every school in the District.

Do not let this be just another story about the failings of some of Philadelphia's toughest schools, let this be an opportunity for the District to meet the needs of these students and provide resources for the principal, teachers, staff and students to move toward a school climate that is safe for everyone. Let us turn from here and say this is when we began to make meaningful change in how our District prevents violence in every school in this city.