At Concord High School this week, students were told to keep moving for the seven minutes that pass between classes.
Even in the second-floor hallway known as “Main Street,” a crossroads where backpack-wearing friends often gather to socialize, students kept moving under the watchful eye of Principal Michael Reardon and the Deputy Principal Jim Corkum, who stood in the hallway to make sure everyone kept traffic flowing.
On Monday, Reardon announced in a message to the school community that students would no longer be allowed to congregate in the Main Street hallway for the foreseeable future due to student behavior issues that have escalated in recent months, including harassment and bullying of other students, strong and profane language, pushing and shoving and “territorial behavior”.
“The key factor was that the other kids felt uncomfortable walking through that area,” Reardon said Wednesday. “When you hear this, you know you have to act.”
Schools across the state are reporting an increase in incidents of inappropriate student behavior and violence over the past year, and Concord is no exception. Reardon and vice principal Tim Herbert said Concord High has experienced vandalism, use of vaping devices and fights this year, mostly concentrated among a group of about 30 freshmen. Reardon said the transition from middle school to high school, where there is more freedom as well as higher academic expectations, is always difficult, but freshmen seem to be having a harder time than usual this year.
“I don’t want to put this at COVID’s feet,” Reardon said. “But the fact that the children have been out of school for a few years has not made this transition any easier.”
In Reardon’s announcement to students, which he forwarded to parents, he said students were not learning the life lessons taught in school.
“I would say the most important skill schools teach how any individual conducts himself in society,” Reardon said. “How we learn to maneuver through the countless interactions we have every day while balancing our dignity with respect for the rights and dignity of others. It’s a test we all face every day at school. or outside, and that will never change.
He said that in a few weeks student privileges could be restored.
“Nobody – certainly not me – wants a school where the toilets have to be closed or have open places in our school where students cannot talk with their friends, but the foundation of our school is the emotional and physical safety of each student,” Reardon said. “Until this standard is met, things will not be normal.”
This year, Concord High also began testing new methods of restorative discipline, and administrators hope the new model will be able to get to the root of student problems beyond simply punishing behavior.
“The more you learn about struggling kids, the more you understand cause and effect,” Reardon said. “It’s not just some random kid giving us a hard time at school. They react with their limited repertoire of tools to certain rather difficult situations.
Herbert, who led restorative justice efforts at the high school, gave a presentation to the community on Tuesday evening where he described the school’s discipline goals and how they add restorative practices to the methods they have used to respond. students. individual needs since 2016. The school began training staff in restorative justice in May 2020 and now has approximately 15 staff who integrate restorative practices into the school day.
Restorative justice methods offer an alternative to exclusionary disciplinary practices such as in-school and out-of-school suspensions that remove students from the learning environment to punish the behavior, but may not work. attack the underlying causes of the behavior. Restorative practices tend to focus on the harm that was done, Herbert said, rather than the specific rule that was broken.
Proponents of restorative justice say it reduces dropout rates and participation in the juvenile justice system. It may also help address the problem of students of color and students with disabilities being disciplined at a disproportionately higher rate than their white, non-disabled peers.
“Once people took responsibility for what they did in a traditional system, we would issue a suspension, we might have community service and that’s it,” Herbert said. “Whereas with a restorative system and the direction we’re going, we delve into a student’s need.”
Data from Concord High School for the past four years shows that the majority of suspensions have been issued for non-violent offenses such as truancy, foul language, defiance and disrespect. The school still uses in-school and out-of-school suspensions depending on behavior and circumstances. So far this year, the school has issued 577 out-of-school suspensions related to 152 behavioral events involving 92 students, and 22.5 in-school suspensions related to 48 disciplinary events involving 25 students.
As part of the restorative model, Concord High began using small talking circles as a tool to reunite delinquent students with school administrators, counselors, parents, and people who have been harmed by their actions. For example, a Restoration Circle could bring together a student who has committed an act of vandalism and a representative of the school’s maintenance staff to discuss the harm that has been done and come up with a solution to fix the situation. In the circles, participants are encouraged to be respectful and open to listening to others and taking turns speaking.
In the case of behavioral issues in the Main Street hallway, Herbert said he recently facilitated a mediation session between two students who had a physical altercation.
“I don’t suspect these kids are the best of friends, but I do believe their plan for ‘we can be safe in schools’ is legit,” Herbert said. “And I don’t think a ten-day suspension would have served these students well.”
Herbert said the goal is to seriously launch the restorative model next year and train more people.
“We have to think about all of our children,” Reardon said. “No learning takes place until everyone feels physically and emotionally safe. But we will not abandon or reject struggling students. We will try to find programs and approaches that will make a difference so they can acclimate to school and start on the path to success over the four years.