Alternative practice to discipline sees slight decline

Mauricio Vasquez, staff reporter

Restorative circles are an alternative to immediate discipline. They provide students with options to consult with the teacher or the student they have a quarrel with, but in recent months, the number of requests for circles has declined.
The circles were brought to Cleveland to lower the number of suspensions, especially among students of color.
“There was such disproportional data around black males being suspended and their grades compared to that of white students and other ethnicities, so the district looked really bad nationally,” said Chev Gary, one of the restorative circles coordinators. He said restorative circles were meant to combat these issues.
The goal of these circles is to repair relationships that were harmed or torn between students or staff in a completely confidential setting, instead of punishing those who have broken the rules.
“Oftentimes, communication is not clear and consistent … It doesn’t matter who it is – if it’s staff or students – it’s usually about miscommunication,” said Jamil Harding, who works with Gary leading restorative circles.
The practice seemed to show significant results during the 2016-17 school year. The suspension rate of African-American students dropped by four times that of Asian-American students and overall suspension rates saw a decrease in the past two years.
Even though restorative circles seem to be producing significant results, the current school year shows a decline in requests of these circles. Harding said the decline may be due to staff members adopting the circle model in their classrooms.
“Community circles have been really big this year in classrooms,” said Harding. “Our thought was let’s build a relationship up front through community circles, so getting the teachers and students together in circles talking with prompts and talking pieces.”
But Harding also thinks it might be too soon to say requests have declined. He and Gary facilitated 130 circles last year, with 65 of those taking place in the first semester.
“So, if you compare this point right now … to Feb. 1 last year, there’s about 79, so we are about 14 behind,” he said. “I’ve noticed in the last couple of weeks there’s been a lot of circle requests … right before the semester, there’s a lot of circle requests.”
Those interested in restorative circles can request one at any time. The form can be found on Echo, under the “Communication” tab.