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School district enforces 'restorative justice' discipline approach, discourages suspensions: 'Building empathy & celebrating diversity'
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School district enforces 'restorative justice' discipline approach, discourages suspensions: 'Building empathy & celebrating diversity'

A California school district is moving away from disciplining misbehaving students with suspensions. Instead, it is enforcing a "restorative justice" approach that focuses on "building empathy & celebrating diversity," according to documents recently obtained by Parents Defending Education, the Daily Caller News Foundation reported.

Documents acquired via a public records request revealed that Poway Unified School District in San Diego, California, provided school staff with "discipline training" that discouraged suspending or expelling students.

A presentation titled "2022-2023 PUSD Discipline Training" encouraged school officials to implement a "restorative justice" approach when disciplining misbehaving students. Staff members were encouraged to seek "other means of correction" besides suspension and expulsion.

According to the presentation, suspension "shall be imposed only when Other Means of Correction (OMC) fail to bring about proper conduct."

Instead, the district encouraged "restorative practice," described as "a powerful approach to conflict resolution that focuses on repairing harm through inclusive processes that engage all stakeholders. Implemented well, [restorative justice] shifts the focus of conflict resolution from punishment to learning and from the individual to the community."

Students who present a danger, caused physical injury, committed a robbery, or possessed a firearm, knife, or controlled substance may be recommended for suspension.

PUSD's "restorative practice course" is a five-day, five-hour lesson "assigned as a consequence to a hate behavior incident." On the first day, students would be briefed on the course's overview and required to participate in "self reflection." Day two and three, students would be presented with "educational content" related to the incident and learn about the "impact of our actions/choices." Students would then focus on "building empathy & celebrating diversity" on day four. On the final day of the course, students would be asked to reflect on their growth over the past week.

Day four's "empathy and awareness" lesson, obtained by PDE, includes a presentation that taught students about "dominant groups" and asked, "What does it mean to be white in the United States?" Students are also asked whether gender or race impacts privilege. Additionally, the lesson covered "implicit bias," "stereotyping," "prejudice," and "discrimination."

The course would be directed by the district's "restorative response team," which addresses "incidents of bias on our school campuses," according to a job posting shared by the PDE.

"We're looking for folks with diverse life experiences who are comfortable sharing their stories, addressing sensitive topics regarding race/identity, and helping students to heal from harmful choices made," the district's advertisement read.

Applicants are asked how "comfortable" they are speaking about race and identity topics, including "anti-Asian," "anti-blackness," "anti-semitism," "anti-Hispanic/Latinx," "anti-LGBTQ+," "anti-immigrant," "anti-Muslim," and "ableism."

The district's presentation also pushed the Anti-Defamation League's "No Place for Hate" campaign, which encouraged school staff to use "correct pronouns and names" for students and avoid "misgendering."

The PDE's public records request also revealed presentations and accompanying surveys on "symbols and bias," "racist remarks," "hate speech," "harmful" phrases, and the history of the "f-word."

One question titled, "Racist Remarks Reflection: 'Comparing Blacks to monkeys,'" asked participants, "The racist comparison of Black people to animals is one that has existed for a long time in our country's history. Where did you first learn about it?"

Another survey, titled "'That's so gay' Reflection," asked participants how they plan to "intervene if you hear someone using this phrase" and what they will say instead to avoid using it themselves.

Poway Unified School District did not immediately respond to a request for comment, the DCNF reported.

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