Turner to Introduce Bill to Address Racial Disparities in Student Discpline

Senator Shirley K. Turner (D-Mercer) testifies during today’s Senate voting session.

TRENTON – In an effort to protect students from the racial disparities in school discipline that effect long-term academic and career achievement, Senator Shirley K. Turner, Vice Chair of the Senate Education Committee, will introduce legislation designed to help pupils and chart a new course away from New Jersey’s poor performance in this area.

The “Restorative Justice in Education Pilot Program” would establish a three-year program to problem-solve, collect data and assess the effectiveness of practices and policies designed to reduce punitive disciplinary rates and reverse chronic absenteeism, low performance and student disenfranchisement.

This bill would counteract the effects of a Trump Administration plan to end Obama-era guidance on student discipline and place New Jersey in the first wave of states focused on a culture of high expectations in our schools, with smart classroom management and increased student and teacher support.   At least twelve states and the District of Columbia have proposed bills to explore in-school conflict resolution that requires parties in dispute to define the harm inflicted and the proper remedy, while giving the necessary attention to community safety, victims’ needs, and offenders’ accountability.  It often includes student or community court, restorative circles, mediation and conferencing.

“Restorative justice programs are proven to not only ensure that students do not lose classroom time through in-school and out-of-school suspensions but also to enhance the overall school climate by encouraging appropriate socio-emotional and behavioral responses for all students,” said Senator Turner (D-Mercer/Hunterdon).  “In a time where school climate is at the forefront of our conversations on school safety, we must do more for our children so they can continue to learn and grow into successful adults and productive citizens.”

New Jersey currently has some of the highest racial disparities in school-based punitive discipline rates in the country.  Research shows that students who experience suspensions or expulsions are far more likely to drop out of school and have continued contact with the criminal justice system.  This affects the overall school culture and leads to lower academic achievement and proficiency rates – which in turn contributes to a broad downward spiral in the community at large “and feeds the school-to-prison pipeline.”  The “Restorative Justice in Education Pilot Program” bill would be the first step in replacing the negative atmosphere in so many of New Jersey’s schools with one that instills the emotional maturity and social responsibility needed well past the school years.

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