Lombardo’s proposal targeting restorative justice policies scrutinized by lawmakers
Gov. Joe Lombardo’s proposal to roll back restorative justice policies, which were implemented to address the school-to-prison pipeline but received a shaky roll out due to the pandemic, was met with a bevy of questions and concerns from lawmakers Thursday.
Lombardo, who made a rare legislative appearance in front of the Assembly Education Committee to speak on Assembly Bill 330, said the legislation is a response to the rise of school violence.
While telling lawmakers there had been 6,800 violent incidents in Clark County School District alone in the last seven months, which adjusted for population mirrors similar increases in districts across the state, Lombardo didn’t offer any data that connected the rise of violence to the 2019 restorative justice law, Assembly Bill 168.
The 2019 bill was implemented to address the disproportionate number of students of color who receive disciplinary actions by requiring schools to pursue restorative justice and nonpunitive support.
“Like I said in my state of the state address, AB 168, while well intended, has led to this increase and dangerous situations in schools across the state,” Lombardo said. “It handcuffs teachers and administrators, leaving them powerless to address habitually misbehaving and violent students.”
Following the presentation, progressive groups called Lombardo’s proposal to repeal those provisions a political stunt arguing the bill won’t address underlying issues within schools.
Jhone Ebert, the Nevada superintendent of public instruction who handled the bulk of the presentation Thursday, said the bill would remove the requirement for the statewide restorative justice framework.
Under the bill, restorative justice plans adopted by schools can’t restrict teachers or the administration’s ability to remove ”disruptive” or violent students.
Other provisions of the bill include:
- removing limitations on suspending or expelling children younger than 11 who “commit major offenses or are deemed habitual disciplinary problems;”
- allowing for student to be automatically expelled for selling or distributing drugs;
- removing the presumption that a student’s behavior stems from experiencing homelessness.
Though Ebert argued the bill still allows for restorative approaches, Democratic Assemblyman Reuben D’Silva, who is also a teacher, said the bill seems to favor a more punitive approach.
“I think some of the language here could give license to educators to constantly remove students,” he said. “This sets these students up on a trajectory where they are getting a record if they are being removed.”
Democratic Assemblywoman Angie Taylor, the vice chair of the committee, citing the pandemic’s disruptions, questioned whether it was wise to get rid of something “we didn’t really get to roll out well, that we rolled out rocky and didn’t really get training in.”
“Maybe we should go back and roll it out right first,” she said.
Democratic Assemblywoman Selena Torres, who is also a teacher, pushed back on the notion that the 2019 law restricted teachers from expelling students for certain offenses, like if a student brought a gun to school.
She also said there were millions of dollars provided by the American Rescue Plan Act that could have helped with rolling out the program.
“These are funds that still haven’t been spent on social and emotional learning, which restorative justice is closely aligned with,” she said. “There definitely were the funds, there was just a lack of effort to provide support and training to teachers.
Groups including the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, the NAACP of Las Vegas and the Children’s Advocacy Alliance opposed the bill.
“Correlation is not causation,” said Annette Dawson Owens with Children’s Advocacy Alliance. “Restorative practices are being blamed for the recent incidents and difficulties in our schools. The reality is, restorative justice has never been fully implemented.”
Various members of the Clark County Education Association, Nevada’s largest teachers’ union, testified in favor, calling on lawmakers to address the increase of violence at schools.
Others cited additional reasons for supporting the bill.
“Thank you for offering a solution to a failing education system that doesn’t include a tax hike,” said Susan Proffitt of the Nevada Republican Club.
‘Don’t know where these strategies are coming from’
Lombardo’s testimony comes a day after lawmakers questioned the Clark County School District’s police department about its use of force policies.
A video circulating on social media in February showed school police officers violently arresting Black teens from Durango High School.
Though Wednesday’s joint Senate Judiciary and Education committees, which featured officers and Superintendent Jesus Jara, started by showing the videos, lawmakers were restricted from asking about the incident since it’s still under investigation.
Instead, CCSD officials went over use of force policies and lawmakers asked general questions about how students are treated on campus.
Democratic State Sen. Edgar Flores said the hearing wasn’t an “I gotcha moment,” but an effort to receive some public accountability and transparency sought by the public.
“We have to understand the reason this conversation is happening is because our constituency came to us and said these answers aren’t happening, they aren’t coming through in public settings,” he said.
Constituents, he added, told him they have been asking for public forums but they weren’t happening.
“We are engaging in this conversation because someone came to us and said please engage in this dialogue in an open manner and that’s it’s transparent and honest,” Flores said.
CCSD Police Chief Mike Blackeye went over policies for dealing with students and presented some data describing use of force incidents. There were 90 cases of use of force in the 2021-2022 school year, which included the use of pepper spray 52 times.
“More officers who are inexperienced are going to use more force and that’s what our numbers show,” Blackeye said. “The majority of officers who use force are one to four or five years on as police officers. They don’t have the skills built up to actually deal with folks to talk to them. They eventually learn communication skills … and learn how to read folks better.”
Democratic Sen. Fabian Donate asked how many officers were terminated or suspended over use of force. Though Blackeye speculated there were five, he didn’t know for sure and said the outcome of the investigations weren’t public.
Blackeye said officers also received training on implicit bias and racial justice. One strategy, he said, for officers to avoid racial profiling is “to consider yourself blindfolded and receiving information.”
Democratic State Sen. Dallas Harris said the blindfolded strategy doesn’t work and encouraged Blackeye to pick another strategy.
“Whoever suggested a blindfold method to address racial profile should probably be substituted in with someone else,” Harris said. “I don’t know where those strategies are coming from, but I hope they’re not strategies you’re coming up with on your own and that you’re actually contracting with professionals who deal with this.”