As Des Moines Public Schools shifts disciplinary policy, Axios contrasts the new discipline rules to the “Let’s Talk” conflict resolution strategy that A Mid-Iowa Organizing Strategy (AMOS) designed and successfully implemented in Des Moines Middle Schools 8 years ago.
The rules [assigning students involved in fights to virtual learning] are likely to take more students out of classrooms and increase disciplinary disparities among students of color, says Cheryl Hayes, a juvenile justice reform advocate with A Mid-Iowa Organizing Strategy (AMOS), a network of metro churches and community groups that runs a mediation program in the district….
Community volunteers [from AMOS] launched the Let's Talk program in three district middle schools eight years ago with one key objective: fix a system that disproportionately disciplines students of color, Hayes, who's also a coordinator for the program, tells Axios.
The district has since expanded the program to nearly all of its 12 middle schools...
Let's Talk is run by AMOS, a network of dozens of metro churches, neighborhood groups and community organizations.
The program helps students resolve conflicts peacefully, and ultimately aims to disrupt the "school-to-prison pipeline" — the link between punishments and the criminal justice system.
Inspiration for the restorative justice program came from "The New Jim Crow," a book about the U.S. legal system and how it has led to the mass incarceration of Black men, Hayes says.
What they do: Volunteer mediators, such as retired judges, go into schools to help resolve student conflicts or other disciplinary issues through discussion.
Oftentimes, mediators help students work through home-life traumas that are a factor in problems surfacing at school, Hayes says.
Program facilitators also assist with cultural awareness training among district educators to help improve teaching and disciplinary practices.
What they're saying: Hayes says organizers believe Let's Talk is a factor in why disciplinary referrals — generally those involving assaults or weapons — were down in grades 6-8 during the first four months of this school year [as reported by Axios, February 2022].
[Photo credit: Let's Talk via Axios]
Reducing Violence in Des Moines Public Schools, Axios [pdf]