JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA — One of Florida’s largest school districts is implementing “restorative practices” as dictated by a Soros-funded organization, despite opposition from conservative board members and ample evidence that the approach is counterproductive.
Last year, Duval County Public Schools (DCPS) received a $1 million federal grant to utilize a “more trauma-informed, healing-centered, and student-focused approach” to discipline and school safety. On Tuesday, the school board voted to continue offering the controversial model for teacher training.
Administered by the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), the grant is part of the federal government’s STOP School Violence Program – launched in 2018 in response to the Sandy Hook and Parkland shootings.
The grant funds teacher training with the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP), a non-profit funded by George Soros’ Open Society Foundations. According to the IIRP website: “Restorative practices empowers a diversity of voices and reduces discipline disparities based on race and other factors.”
The BJA website lists “open” STOP School Violence grants with school districts in Duval, Palm Beach and Broward counties, as well as a “closed” grant from 2019 in Hillsborough county.
CONSERVATIVES, BOARD MEMBERS SPEAK OUT
The Duval County school board was set to decide on July 10 whether or not the district would continue accepting the grant’s taxpayer dollars, but rescheduled the vote to August 1 after members of Moms for Liberty Duval decried the unintended consequences of “restorative practices.”
“Broward was held out as the national model in restorative justice practices. The nation saw it unravel when we learned what was really happening in the schools,” Moms for Liberty Duval Chair Rebecca Nathanson told the board, referencing the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
On Tuesday, the board voted 5–2 in favor of continuing the grant, with dissenting votes coming from Charlotte Joyce and April Carney. Before the vote, Joyce read aloud portions of the IIRP training handbook that she saw as unrealistic or problematic.
“‘When misbehaving students disrupt a class, other students often have feelings about it,’” she said, quoting a section on “Restorative Circles.” Instead of swift disciplinary action, the IIRP suggests teachers halt classroom instruction and hold a group therapy session.
“‘A [Restorative] Circle provides those who have done wrong an opportunity to take responsibility for their behavior and develop a plan for behaving differently,’” Joyce continued reading from the handbook. “‘It may also give other students a chance to tell how they feel.’”
Another portion of the handbook advises principals to consider not classifying on-campus fights as “fights” when reporting the incident, so they don’t have to suspend the students involved.
“This is what this ‘restorative justice’ practice teaches. This is what they’re telling our teachers and administrators to do,” Joyce said after she finished reading. “When I have brought concerns before this board about the subjectivity of coding a fight […] this is what I’m talking about.”
Duval Schools declined to answer The Florida Standard’s questions about the grant.
“BREAKFAST CLUB-LIKE FANTASY”
Restorative practices seek to correct far more than just the bad behavior of individual students – they aim to reduce the racial disparities that keep social justice warriors awake at night.
This paradigm shift away from traditional discipline was institutionalized nearly a decade ago under the Obama Administration via the controversial “Dear Colleague” letter in 2014. Issued by the U.S. Department of Education and Department of Justice, the letter laid out new policies aimed at curbing the “school to prison pipeline” through “conflict resolution, restorative practices, counseling and structured systems of positive interventions.”
The letter declared “unlawful” any policies that resulted in a “disparate impact… on students of a particular race,” even if such policies are administered in an “even-handed manner.” It added that the Departments “may initiate investigations based on public reports of racial disparities in student discipline.”
Julie Gunlock, an author who has written extensively about education and parenting, argues that the letter’s policies flowed from a “trickle-down social justice theory” and resulted in a “Breakfast Club-like fantasy.”
“To comply with the guidance, schools were instructed to rely less on local police to intervene with trouble-making students,” Julie Gunlock wrote for the Washington Examiner in 2018. “Schools also began replacing more traditional methods of discipline with student-led mentoring programs. […] Instead of punishment, the bully or the violent offender engages in talk therapy and group discussions with the kid he or she has been harassing to seek reconciliation.”
Gunlock argues that Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz may have been stopped before he murdered 17 people if it hadn’t been for restorative practices.
“Cruz was even allowed to commit crimes (including assaults, threats, bringing weapons to school) without being arrested,” Gunlock wrote. “Had he been arrested, he might have undergone a mental health evaluation or been sentenced to a juvenile detention center and kept far away from his fellow students.”
MAKING THINGS WORSE
While restorative practices are often touted as “evidence-based” methods, numerous third-party studies and survey data suggest they have backfired.
In 2017, a Fordham University study examined the impact of new policies in the School District of Philadelphia (SDP) that banned suspensions for “conduct” offenses – such as profanity or failure to follow classroom rules – and reduced the length of suspensions for more serious infractions. Researchers found that, after three years, academic achievement had declined by 3 percentage points in math and nearly 7 percentage points in reading.
Teachers across the country have admitted the policies aren’t working as advertised. A 2018 poll found that 7 in 10 elementary school teachers believe that disruptive behavior had increased in the years since restorative practices were introduced at their school.
Max Eden, a research fellow with the American Enterprise Institute, authored a best-selling book in 2019 demonstrating how such policy shifts enabled the tragic Parkland shooting and endangers students across the country. Eden compiled numerous teacher surveys, most of which revealed an overwhelming disappointment with the policy results.
“In Denver, only 23 percent of teachers say the new approach to discipline improves behavior. In Charleston, South Carolina, just 14 percent of teachers believe it is an improvement over previous discipline policies, and in Madison, Wisconsin, only 13 percent of teachers think that it has a positive effect on behavior.”