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EDITORIAL: Restorative justice policy increased school violence in Nevada

Legislative Democrats have backtracked on their failed “restorative justice” school discipline policies.

The Assembly Education Committee recently held a hearing on two bills intended to increase campus safety by giving schools more leeway to discipline students. Assembly Bill 285 would make it easier to suspend and expel dangerous and misbehaving students. Assembly Bill 194 would allow schools to permanently expel any student who harms a staff member or student. The status quo severely restricts the ability of schools to expel those 10 and under.

These bills are attempts to fix the restorative justice measure the Legislature passed in 2019. That bill required schools to “provide a plan of action based on restorative justice” before suspending and expelling violent and disruptive students, including those who committed acts of violence against teachers. Expulsions were optional. Previously, a student who injured a staff member was given an automatic suspension of at least one semester. Students who did it twice were permanently expelled.

Proponents of the reform presented it as an effort to help troubled kids avoid the “school to prison pipeline,” get their lives in order and move forward with their studies. They also expressed concern that minority students tended to be disciplined at higher rates than their white counterparts.

In practice, however, going too soft on disruptive students only encouraged bad behavior.

Violence exploded in schools over the past four years, highlighting a clear link between lax discipline and an increase in misbehavior. The new policies handcuffed teachers, making it more difficult for them to control their classrooms. Disruptive or violent students were repeatedly returned to class after facing few consequences.

More importantly, the reform eroded the healthy learning environment necessary for students to thrive and prosper.

“School buildings are not as safe as they used to be,” said Assemblywoman Angie Taylor, one of three Democrats to sponsor AB285. “Our teachers are afraid. Our teachers don’t feel safe, and they aren’t able to do their best work.”

Marie Neisess, president of the Clark County Education Association, testified that, “one educator had her spine fused after being assaulted by a student. A fourth grader punched a pregnant educator in the stomach. Another educator was assaulted by a student, kicked in the groin and had their wrist broken.”

Providing a mechanism for troubled students to straighten up and eventually earn their degrees is a worthy goal. But it mustn’t come at the expense of classroom safety or an environment conducive to study.

These two bills have bipartisan support, and Gov. Joe Lombardo has made this issue a priority. Lawmakers should pass AB285 and AB194 without hesitation.

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