Giving Compass' Take:

• Punitive discipline in schools can make students feel outcasted, and implementing suspensions for students is usually not about a student's harmful behavior. 

• How can restorative justice practices help with reducing suspensions? 

• Read about educator's responses to early childhood suspension bill. 

During horseplay with friends, a young man — a high school student — had shoved an elderly woman.

Now, he risked suspension. I was working in the student’s school as a staff developer at the time, helping to implement restorative practices as part of my work with Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility. I drew the young man into a “restorative conference” with the principal and others.

Research shows that students of color are punished far more often and more harshly than white students for the same infractions — and sometimes for no infractions at all. That’s because often suspension isn’t about a child’s harmful behavior. It’s about adult assumptions and lack of awareness, especially related to race, class, gender and sexual orientation.

My young friend initially sat silently, his head down. But after some gentle questions about what had happened and why, he tearfully shared that on top of several challenges at home, he’d felt shunned at school since a suspension two years before.

This young man thought he was “bad.” I told him that I believed his intention was not to hurt anyone, but that he had most certainly caused the woman harm. And while he had definitely made a bad decision, that didn’t make him a bad person. It was also important for the adults in the room to hear this so that they could begin to shift their thinking about who they perceived him to be. That way, they could better offer this young man the opportunity to experience himself differently.

Many schools and districts are moving to restorative practices as an alternative to punitive discipline because of the evidence that suspension throws young people into a world of hurt. A child who is suspended even once is much more likely to become alienated from school, drop out or enter the criminal justice system.

Read the full article about punitive discipline by Dionne Grayman at The Hechinger Report.