Kitchener-Waterloo

Plan to curb suspensions, expulsions in the works for public school board

Staff at the Waterloo Region District School Board will develop a plan to bring "restorative practices" into schools. The hope is to create alternatives to suspension and expulsion.

Board report says 'restorative practices' could provide an alternative

Waterloo Region District School Board sign outside their main office.
WRDSB staff will develop a strategy for ongoing monitoring and analysis of suspension and expulsion data at the school and system level. (Waterloo Region District School Board/Twitter)

Staff at the Waterloo Region District School Board are working on a plan to bring "restorative practices" into more schools. It's hoped these practices will curb suspensions and expulsions, which tend to disproportionately affect students in special education, as well as Black, Indigenous and racialized students, according to the Ministry of Education.

The move comes after pre-pandemic numbers showed the school board had a high number of suspensions compared to similar boards — although it was later discovered this was due, in part, to a data error.

An ad hoc suspension review committee was put together in the fall of 2019 and presented an update to trustees this week. The presentation highlighted a case study at Howard Robertson Public School in Kitchener, which was part of a recent ministry pilot project about keeping students in schools. 

"What they what they uncovered through their work and through their learning is there are some antecedents to behaviour," said superintendent Bill Lemon. 

"If we can have students start to take responsibility and start to understand their own circumstance, then they can take some proactive measures that prevent them from getting in conflict and and then essentially removing the need for any kind of punitive step."

Restorative practices

A report that went before the board of trustees this week noted the Howard Robertson pilot demonstrated the potential of "restorative practices" as an alternative to more punitive measures. 

"The fundamental hypothesis of restorative practices is that human beings are happier, more cooperative and productive, and more likely to make positive changes in their behaviour when those in positions of authority do things with them, rather than to them or for them," the report said. 

Bringing restorative practices into schools would involve helping students and teachers build positive relationships with one another. When conflict or bad behaviour does occur, "educators respond to student behaviour by separating the deed from the doer," the report said. 

"The behaviour is unacceptable, not the individual," said the report. "In this reactive or responsive phase individuals will work to understand the harm that has occurred and take steps to repair the damage to the relationship."

Going into the fall, the board was directed to develop an implementation plan looking at how to bring in these practices. 

The board will also develop a strategy to monitor local suspension and expulsion data going forward. 

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