Wake County focuses on new community approach to student discipline

WAKE COUNTY, N.C. (WTVD) -- The Wake County School District is rewriting the rules on what students can get suspended for. It's also training community members to help resolve some of the discipline issues in our schools.

Why the need to reduce the suspension rate at WCPSS?

Some school board members and many in the community say there was a bias; students of color were being overly-suspended - resulting in decreased academic performance, a reduction in chances of graduation, and an increased chance of suspended students to get in more trouble.

"Suspending children from school does not improve behavior," said community advocate Geraldine Alshamy, who is working with WCPSS on its new push for something called 'Restorative Practices' to reduce suspensions. "We want alternatives that keep children in school, which build relationships because that's the most important thing."

Alshamy will be part of a training exercise at Raleigh's Greater Love Church this Saturday - that will include teachers, parents, church leaders, and elected officials. The goal is building a community to resolve issues and incidents between students at school.

Harvey Spencer is the pastor at Greater Love.

"We believe in this," he said. "If they can't handle it in school, a church seems like a safe environment where people can come and dialogue."

Code of Conduct Changes

At Tuesday's school board meeting, district staff presented changes to the district's code of conduct. The Wake school board is examining whether to stop suspending kids for low-level offenses like disobeying a teacher or cursing.

Restorative discipline would be the new alternative.

Does Restorative Practice Work?

Alshamy responded to some critics who believe the goals of Restorative Practice are too "pie-in the-sky" or "utopian" and can't work on a practical level. "What I would say to them is it is a practice that's working around the country and outside the country. It has been shown that when people use restorative practice, discipline problems decrease."

Pastor Spencer believes success at WCPSS could lead to discipline changes across North Carolina

"If it works, and I believe it will work, it will be a model for the state," he said.

On Saturday morning, the event at Greater Love Church will be training up community members for 'restorative practice circles'.

These events are also happening in the schools. The district said it's trained staff at 67 schools, so far, in restorative practices.

In the meantime, the school board continues to get feedback on the changes to the district code of conduct.
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