Community leaders advocating for restorative practices in Jefferson County Public Schools are urging Superintendent Donna Hargens to support pilot programs in schools that have expressed an interest.
Citizens of Louisville Organized and United Together, or CLOUT, hosted a seminar at Spalding University on Monday with over 30 community leaders including six JCPS principals. The group discussed how Louisville could implement restorative practices in schools and the community.
Restorative practices are an alternative to “zero-tolerance” policies, which many school districts nationwide have in place. The policies have also been criticized for higher numbers of suspensions that lead to the so-called “school-to-prison pipeline.”
Restorative practices include a range of responses to behavioral issues that partly focus on better communication between staff and students.
Superintendent Hargens has expressed interest in moving away from the district’s zero-tolerance policy and has taken steps toward implementing restorative practices, said Chris Kolb, CLOUT co-president and teacher at Spaulding University.
Earlier this year, Hargens traveled to Baltimore to learn more about how the process works and she provided a full-day seminar in the summer for staff, which was attended by nearly 200 JCPS administrators, Kolb said.
After the seminar, 42 schools showed an interest in restorative practices and 19 showed a strong interest in piloting a program, he said.
Hargens met with CLOUT last month, when she identified six schools which could potentially pilot a restorative practice program, but since then discussions have slowed, Kolb said.
Cost could be an issue at $80,000 per school for the training. But the investment would have long-term benefits for schools and communities that fully implement a restorative practice program, said Beverly Manigo with the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP), a Pennsylvania-based graduate school that has trained schools and communities worldwide.
Manigo told the group Monday that restorative practices work, but that everybody in the school that comes in contact with the child needs to be on board, she said.
“None of us are naturally restorative,” she said. “In order to be that way you have to work at it,” she said.
That’s why IIRP has put together a two-year training called Whole School Change that has caught the eye of CLOUT and which Kolb wants JCPS to begin to pilot as soon as possible.
Further, he said the cost to begin in a few schools shouldn’t be too big of an issue.
“Superintendent Hargens had said directly to us before that money will not keep them from doing this. And in fact she has said if schools wanted to do it that she would provide them incentives so they could participate,” he said.
Since last month’s meeting with JCPS, attempts by CLOUT to reach out to district administrators to discuss further steps have been unsuccessful, but Kolb says he remains confident that Hargens will consider changing the zero-tolerance policy at some point.
“We’re pushing the issue forward, reaching out, trying to ensure that the enthusiasm doesn’t wane because it’s there. The community wants it, schools want it, parents want it, so JCPS needs to step up and identify these pilot schools,” said Kolb.