Gwinnett parent: Consequences needed for school discipline to work

Sheri Mitchell is the parent of two Gwinnett County Public Schools students.

In 2020, she was among the parent leaders who advocated for a return to face-to-face classes in Gwinnett. She is state coalition leader for BEST, Building Education for Students Together, which advocates for greater parental control and school choice and opposes “anti-American subjective curricula.”

In a guest column, Mitchell writes that she is concerned about how Gwinnett approaches student discipline, saying the district needs to take a firmer stance. Safety concerns have led to two recent community meetings in Gwinnett and are likely to come up at Thursday’s school board meeting.

By Sheri Mitchell

Advocates describe restorative justice as an approach to student discipline that will reduce recidivism, encourage kids to flourish and keep students in the classroom as much as possible.

Doesn’t that sound great? Not so fast.

As a parent and community member, you must take a deeper dive. The next generation deserves no less.

What’s not explained about restorative justice is that it prevents teachers from reporting disciplinary problems and inhibits them from speaking up. Healing circles and peer counseling force the adults to ignore the misbehavior of the kids.

According to Education Week, there have been 40 school shootings this year thus far that have resulted in injuries or death. “Prior to 2022, the highest number of school shootings with injuries or deaths was last year when there were 34. There were 10 in 2020, and 24 each in 2019 and 2018,” reports Education Week.

Credit: Submitted

Credit: Submitted

Just a few weeks ago, DeAndre Henderson, 17, a Norcross High student, was shot and killed not far from the high school. A gun was fired at Gwinnett’s Shiloh High School the previous week. There have been arrests in both cases.

Andrew Pollack’s daughter Meadow Pollack died in the 2018 mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, along with 16 other students and teachers.

In the book “Why Meadow Died: The People and Policies That Created The Parkland Shooter and Endanger America’s Students,” Pollack and co-author Max Eden lay out what went wrong, including the many second and third chances extended to convicted shooter Nikolas Cruz.

ExploreGwinnett students weigh in on discipline, violence

In October 2021, Cruz pleaded guilty. On Nov. 2, he was sentenced to life in prison for one of the deadliest high school massacres in U.S. history. An investigation by CNN found the Broward County Sheriff’s Office received at least 45 calls for service relating to Cruz or his brother from 2008 to 2017, before Cruz attacked his former high school on Feb. 14, 2018. At one point, Cruz was directed into the PROMISE program, which provides alternatives to arrests for some misdemeanors.

Restorative justice allows schools to be soft on kids who need additional direction and a firm hand. I’m a mom who sends part of her heart to a middle school and high school every day in Gwinnett County. Like most parents, I try to keep my children safe and rely on others in the community to do the same.

Most teachers and staff want to promote safety, but restorative justice ties their hands and limits discipline. We live in a world where there are rules. Kids need to be taught right from wrong. We need to make sure kids understand there are consequences and learn from them. This is what leads to productive adults.

ExploreGwinnett school discipline comes under scrutiny

I had the opportunity to speak with Eden, an education researcher at the American Enterprise Institute. He said restorative justice assumes teachers are guilty of racial bias and that discipline is harmful to students. It also regards misbehavior by kids as a response to repression or trauma and calls for a therapeutic approach.

In August, I spoke about school safety in front of the Gwinnett County school board. I asked them not to embrace restorative justice. Yes, it would make their discipline data look better, but kids need our help, not to go easy on them.

We need to keep them out of jail as adults. Success should be measured by giving them life tools and that includes real consequences. If you don’t let kids get arrested when it is necessary as with Cruz, then they don’t have a record to get referred to the police.

There are those in Gwinnett County who want our school resource officers removed from our schools. How is this keeping our kids safe?

The board and superintendent are well-meaning people with different views. They choose to talk about disparities in school discipline, the school to prison pipeline, and disproportionate discipline.

However, at a recent school board meeting, teachers, parents and students preferred to talk about the fear they had for the safety of our community. Reports of increased fighting and guns at school were a concern. One parent spoke about his son getting jumped by six kids in the bathroom and his son’s fear of riding the bus. A teacher spoke about his own daughter’s fear to go to school. You can view the meeting here.

Gwinnett is reporting marked declines in students being taken from classrooms and for discipline. But it doesn’t make students feel safer. It is all smoke and mirrors.

As parents, we can’t be on autopilot anymore. We need to show up to board meetings, educate our five school board members in Gwinnett, get involved with what is being taught at your schools and with polices affecting children’s safety. Our children and our community need you.