Image Credit: Hamilton County Schools / Facebook
By Scarlen Valderaz [Special to The Tennessee Conservative] –
Parents across Hamilton County send their children to public school with the expectation that their children will learn to read, write, and do math in a safe environment. It is shocking and infuriating to know that this is not the reality in Hamilton County schools.
In 2023 Hamilton County Schools made national headlines numerous times. From teachers having inappropriate relationships with students, to substitute teachers who engage in prostitution as a side hustle, to an alleged rape at a high school, the lack accountability from this school district is baffling.
Recently, students at Redbank high school staged a protest over an alleged rape at their high school. The students who participated in the protest stated that the school administration attempted to brush this under the rug, but the students had enough and took matters into their own hands. Another student took his life due to the bullying he experienced at school. Both are tragic situations that no child should have to endure while they attend school.
According to a FOIA filed with the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office, in the 2022-2023 school year, there were over 1,400 incidents reported by school resource officers (SROs). The nature of the incidents range from vandalism, threat of mass violence, to sexual assault on children (pornography). With such offenses one would think that the school district would have a strict discipline plan in place to ensure that our community’s schools are safe places for children to learn in. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
Hamilton County schools are proud participants of progressive discipline also known as restorative practices, or restorative justice. This method of discipline requires the offender to meet with teachers, principals, or school counselors to talk through their unruly behavior. At times, the student affected by the offenders actions will also meet with the offender to make amends. This method of discipline aims to make teachers aware of a child’s race or skin color before a discipline measure is applied. Often, this leads to incidents not being reported until the behavior escalates to the point where an SRO’s presence is necessary. It remains unclear how this method of discipline truly reduces the school-to-prison pipeline.
The reality of restorative practices in Hamilton County schools is a dark one. Students feel unsafe and uncomfortable making their school environments a hard one to learn in. Teachers are leaving the profession citing safety concerns because they too experience assault and receive little to no support from their school’s administration.
Who is responsible for introducing restorative practices to HCS? Chattanoogans in Action for Love, Equality, and Benevolence (CALEB) and UnifiED.
UnifiED takes credit for the restorative justice pilot that took place at Orchard Knob Elementary School in the 2019-2022 school year. Although their website no longer has information about restorative practices or the pilot they led Orchard Knob elementary school through, below are screenshots of what information their website once had.
On CALEB’s website, they have dedicated a page to restorative practices and how they have allegedly helped Orchard Knob Elementary since their adoption of this discipline method. CALEB fundraises to provide continuing education and training on restorative justice to Hamilton County schools.
In July of 2022, the county commission allocated $70,000 to CALEB to address discipline disparities in HCS. In that same year, school board member Jill Black from district 11 participated in a forum with CALEB where she committed to meet with them to discuss restorative practices regularly. School board member Jill Black is also the chairwoman for the student discipline committee that met once.
Restorative practices on paper sound nice but the reality it has created for students and teachers of Hamilton County is one of danger and chaos. Students and teachers should not have to attend or work at a school where they may get assaulted or bullied.