Baltimore City Council members are urging the school system to develop and implement a conflict resolution curriculum for students in grades three to 12 in an effort to stem school violence.
Members of the council's Education Committee voted to endorse legislation sponsored by Councilwoman Agnes Welch that supports student-to-student counseling, teacher training in nonviolent conflict resolution and community partnerships to stem after-school violence.
The bill, which is not binding, follows several recent high-profile incidents of school violence and violence by students, including the beating of a city school teacher in her classroom and an attack by students on a public bus passenger.
School officials who attended the council hearing said they were already working to stem violence, and that they were close to submitting a request for proposals that could create new community and school partnerships.
For several years now, the school system has been working with a conflict resolution group to train teachers to meet with students and heal disagreements that could fester. Those sessions, called "daily raps," are already in use in more than 20 elementary, middle and high schools across the city, according to the Community Conferencing Center, which teaches educators how to lead that dialogue circles.
"Young people hold a sense of hope that we will give them the tools to solve some of these conflicts," said Jonathan Brice, the school system's executive director of student support services.
Although the number of total suspensions and expulsions at city schools is down from what it was last year at this time, from 14,361 to 13,454, school officials still want better results, Brice said. Six new transformation schools are slated to open in September and they could provide students with behavior problems an alternative. Brice said the schools will not be "dumping grounds" for bad students. Instead, students will get counseling and other types of intensive help to make sure they graduate and move on to college or a job.
"Our young people really are crying out for this sort of help," Brice said.
Schools Chief Andres Alonso, who also attended the hearing, said that he wants teachers to focus on behavior, not just test scores, even if that means that some schools post bad results as part of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
"It's not simply about test scores," he told the council committee, "but about growth for students and keeping kids in school. ... We have to work with our kids as long as it takes."
Lauren Abramson, the executive director of the Community Conferencing Center, also attended the hearing. She said that her group has focused on working with female students recently. So far this year, the center has worked with 432 girls and 161 boys.
The center has also worked to smooth relations between teachers and students. At the end of a recent session between a teacher and some of her students, Abramson said, the teacher was willing to let the students return to the classroom. The students promised not to misbehave.
"They all connected as human beings and not as adversaries," Abramson said.
The bill will be reviewed by the full council at a later date.