KCPS implementing new discipline system aimed at reforming student reaction to conflict

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Kansas City Public Schools is speaking out after FOX 4 first aired video Thursday of a middle school fight. The district openly addressed the fight and explained even before this incident, KCPS has started to implement a new type of discipline.

“Anger is a normal emotion, we all get angry, but what we do with that anger is what we want to try teach our scholars,” Assistant Superintendent Anthony Lewis, Ph.D. said.

Lewis said the district uses moments like a Central Middle School fight caught on camera, as a learning experience. The cell phone video shows two female students fighting one another in a hallway near a stairwell with dozens of students in the background.

“If it gets to the part where there is a fight, how can we look at this as a learning opportunity to prevent more of these incidents from occurring?” Lewis said.

Long before last week’s fight, Lewis said the district has already been examining ways to change the way students think and react, through a tactic called Restorative Justice.

Annette Lantz-Simmons is the executive director at the Center for Conflict Resolution. Her office trained KCPS Superintendent Mark Bedell, Ph.D. and his direct staff after he showed interest in learning how to implement Restorative Justice throughout the district.

“In the midst of something like that, they’re emotional. They don’t think of those consequences that happen. So restorative processes slows that down and helps there be learning moments in that,” Lantz-Simmons said.

She said the goal is to restore or repair relationships damaged by some sort of harm.

“Whenever there’s an incident, instead of just bringing the students in separately, they bring students in together, they talk about it, and restore the relationship and mend the relationship,” she said.

The director said the idea has show success in other states, and she said it’s different than a top-down model of telling kids.

“You did this; now you’re in trouble.” she said, “If the only thing they see is an authority telling them what is going to happen to them because of something they did, then they are never going to learn to think for themselves.”

The district believes they can cut down violence in schools by bringing together fighting parties, talking through problems, and letting kids know the adults are listening.

“We can’t stop all fights but what we can do is provide spaces and opportunities for students to feel comfortable going to an adult in that building and letting them know, ‘Hey I’m experiencing this issue, you may want to talk to this student,’”Lewis said.

KCPS said it will have several assistant superintendents at the Central Middle School campus next week to take a “full, 360-degree look” at the school. From that point, Lewis said they’ll reassess and plan how to address any issues.