It is laudable that Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder (USA) — despite their shortcomings in other areas — denounced school suspensions last week as the sham they have proven to be. Not only is there no evidence that out-of-school suspensions and zero-tolerance measures improve the school environment, there is abundant evidence that they disproportionately affect students of color and those with disabilities.

Although they are only beginning to spell out exactly how students can be effectively disciplined in lieu of suspension, federal officials suggested that schools offer “staff training on conflict resolution,” among other remedies. While I am not so bold or naïve to suggest that conflict resolution is the same as effective discipline, I am hoping that these seemingly innocuous words will be at the heart of the new nationwide regulations. This is far from certain given the preponderance of alternative responses, such as increasing rewards or positive reinforcement for desired behavior, but now is the time for advocates of school-based mediation and restorative practices to make their voices heard.

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