“Crimes committed in schools will be pursued as crimes committed elsewhere” An Open Letter to RCSD teachers from Brandon White. And restorative justice

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Douglass Non-Violence Club: Cody, Devin, Michelle, Dennis, and Gina (not in picture Nyiaesha Colon, Club President and Gandhi Institute intern) 2014

I have known Brandon White for a few years. When working a few times with him at the Frederick Douglass campus, I saw the respect shown to him by peers and students. When we covered a fundraiser for his innovative after school club, Chess, Rhymes and Wisdom, I saw first hand his dedication to students. And his commitment last summer at a seminar held by East on restorative justice Brandon attended in his role as the Restorative Practices facilitator at Douglas.

Self-admittedly, Brandon has a weak spot: basketball. Once at Douglass I shot some hoops with Brandon and his students, distinctly recalling scoring more baskets that he.

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RPD officers at the Douglass Campus, 2014

We have written about the importance of restorative justice practices and Non-Violence Clubs in the RCSD. I have seen and heard about my share of disruptive behavior in the RCSD, including at Douglass.  But for all the disheartening and dispiriting effects of disruptive behavior, I am firmly convinced that criminalizing student behavior must be the very last resort.

The other day Brandon shared an “Open Letter to RCSD Teachers” he had written on March 22nd and posted on his blog. In the letter, he objects to a clause in the draft RCSD contract voted on the next day. (The contract passed and now has to be approved by the board).

Crimes committed in schools will be pursued as crimes committed elsewhere, to the extent the District has the right to press charges for those crime. In all other events, the District will fully support the teacher who chooses to press charges on his/her own behalf.

Brandon brought attention to the clause with what he calls, “corrective love.” 

The clause itself does not refer to Restorative Justice. But I admire Brandon for drawing attention to the clause in his advocacy of restorative practices. I think we all agree that criminalizing student behavior must be the very last resort.

Not voting on the contract, I take no position whether the clause merited voting no. Like Brandon, I am a strong advocate of the RTA and teacher unions in general. Here is what he says.

Open Letter to RCSD Teachers Regarding Contract: Voting “No” Tomorrow for Students

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Brandon White from his blog, bushidogarvey.com

Hello Fellow Panthers and Teachers,

As you all know, tomorrow we are to vote on whether or not we approve of the newly drafted RTA contract. What I am about to say isn’t a condemnation of the union that is fighting to increase my pay and bring stability to my school schedule by defining the length of the school day, establishing common planning time, and promoting early student release for teacher meetings. These are all things that I would obviously want as an educator and appreciate as a union member. However, it is also my responsibility as a union member to voice with a corrective love things that startle me. There is a clause in our contract that states the following:

Crimes committed in schools will be pursued as crimes committed elsewhere, to the extent the District has the right to press charges for those crime. In all other events, the District will fully support the teacher who chooses to press charges on his/her own behalf.

 We all know how wild some students can be, but we also can’t ignore the fact that the vague nature of this teacher contract clause can be easily abused by professionals. I say that for anecdotal and statistical reasons. I was at a dinner seminar where an educator’s response to the suggestion that pre-K-4th graders shouldn’t  being arrested for assault was “a crime is a crime, and those students should get the same punishment as they would if they did it in the streets.” This man’s statement about criminalizing elementary kids for wrong doing was met with considerable applause. The Advancement Project did an independent study about the disciplinary practices of our district, and the results were staggering. The study (found here) shows how we already disproportionately suspend kids for minor infractions, and nationally we disproportionately suspend black, latino, and sped students for the same infractions that other students commit. Imagine how much more malpractice will happen with a clause that provides carte blanche for some of our colleagues that subjectively label our student’s behavior as criminal without an objective process of determining the validity of the accusation. You personally may not participate in inappropriately pursuing charges for students, but that doesn’t mean other teachers haven’t and/or won’t with this vague clause that specifies no grade/age limit, specific misbehaviors, etc.

As I previously stated, there are elements of this contract that are amazing for us, but as I illustrated in the previous paragraph, voting “yes” to this contract as it is currently written would be serving our best interest at the expense of our students. Some of us understand this already, some of us are still comprehending this reality, and some of us may downright disagree with this truth. Disagreeing is a right, and so is a right to discourse, which had been clearly stunted because so few of us as teachers had anything to do with the formulation of this contract and were left with so little time to analyze it before we were instructed to make a quick vote tomorrow morning. I believe we can draft and inform a contract that can equitably serve teachers and students at the same time. Until then, my vote is “no,” and I hope you share these values.

Your Colleague,

Brandon White

Restorative Practices

NW & NE Jr./Sr. High@ The Frederick Douglass Campus

UPDATE: As reported, Brandon’s letter was widely circulated, and at least partially responsible for a modification in the wording of the contract.

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Democrat and Chronicle, 3/25/16

 

Helping restore East through restorative classroom practices

On restorative justice, Non-Violence Clubs and school discipline

On the People’s Party with DJ Alykhan. And raising $500 for Chess, Rhymes and Wisdom

How do union teachers teach about unions?