Is Discipline Reform Really Helping Decrease School Violence?
A lack of concrete information about student misconduct—and how to address it—may be hindering efforts to make campuses safer.
The allegations sound like a parent’s nightmare. Roughly two dozen children at New York City schools were hit, kicked, and bullied by fellow students while administrators stood by, according to a recent class-action lawsuit.
“The data we have seen shows a clear and undeniable escalation of violence in New York City schools,” said Jim Walden, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the suit, which is being backed by the charter-school advocacy group Families for Excellent Schools. The suit claims that the New York City Education Department isn’t doing enough to stop the violence.
The complaint details a litany of violent behavior. In one case, a 9-year-old boy in an East Harlem school was repeatedly bullied even when the teacher was in the classroom. The bully, according to the lawsuit, “repeatedly kicked him on his body, and verbally harassed him.” The boy’s mother tried to get the principal to intervene but was allegedly met with indifference.
The suit is among the signs of rising concern about violence in schools, partly driven by mass shootings like the one in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012. In response to such fears, school administrators are instituting a wide range of tactics to boost safety, including by installing metal detectors and hiring security guards. Schools are also turning to social-reform programs such as those that embrace the restorative-justice model, an approach that emphasizes bringing together the perpetrators and victims of misconduct through meetings and discussions.
But a lack of hard data and conflicting views on safety measures make it difficult to assess whether school violence is in fact increasing—and whether those measures are actually effective. Some observers worry that the absence of concrete information and confusion over the amount of violence in schools are hindering efforts to reduce violence and bullying.
Despite the concerns expressed by parents like those in the lawsuit, many experts say that the incidence of school violence is dropping. New York City school officials contend that violence on campus is on the decline, a trend that experts say is mirrored across the country.
At the local level, statistics on school violence can vary depending on the source. Walden pointed to state statistics showing that the number of violent episodes in New York City schools rose 23 percent from the 2013-14 school year to the one that ended in June 2015. But the New York City school administration uses police data showing that crime in the city’s schools declined 29 percent from the 2011–12 school year to the 2014–15 year. Some observers have said that the state data does not make a distinction between minor disciplinary problems in schools and more Is School Violence on the Rise—and Is Restorative Justice Actually Working? - The Atlantic: