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EDITORIAL: School safety requires school discipline

There’s a certain irony to an education institution not learning from its mistakes. Unfortunately, the results from this mistake are no laughing matter when it comes to the Clark County School District and school discipline.

At a recent school board meeting, Trustees heard a presentation on student discipline. This is an important and timely topic. There was a marked increase in school violence last year. Some of the worst examples were caught on videos that quickly went viral. This wasn’t just the result of students returning to school after the pandemic. For years, Superintendent Jesus Jara has wanted schools to reduce suspensions and expulsions, while pushing restorative justice.

This approach led to things becoming so toxic that Mr. Jara decided to actually punish rule breakers. In March, he announced that major disciplinary infractions would lead to a recommended expulsion. That welcome reversal highlighted how flawed Mr. Jara’s approach was.

Knowing this, one might have expected this presentation to focus on district efforts to keep students safe. Instead, district higher-ups practically apologized for suspending and expelling so many students. They were quick to laud the fact that the district had fewer suspensions and expulsions last year than in the 2018-19 school year.

“Overall, there’s a downward trajectory in this number,” Yolanda Flores, assistant superintendent for education services said when presenting a slide of student suspensions. “So, that’s a positive outlook there.”

Students whose safety is threatened by unruly classmates would likely disagree with that optimism.

Mr. Jara continues to focus on the wrong measurement. The top priority needs to be ensuring student safety, not micromanaging suspensions and expulsions. Those are tools to achieve a more important goal. They obviously aren’t the only tools, but they are valuable ones. When you place artificial restraints on what principals can do to ensure order, it’s not surprising to see violence increase.

Students, like everyone, respond to incentives. When on-site school staff have to reduce punishments on rule breakers, you get more rule breaking. This also is damaging for students and teachers who never personally experience violence. It creates a noxious environment.

But district administrators continue to pursue these failed restorative justice practices. Mike Barton, the district’s chief college, career, equity and school choice officer said, “Every school will have a five-member restorative leadership team.”

If only the district had a similar commitment to keeping students safe.

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