Courtesy of Sequella Coleman

On Tuesday evening, the New Haven Board of Education heard that around 50 classes of NHPS students have had to quarantine since the beginning of school in September due to positive COVID-19 cases. 

New Haven Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Ilene Tracey told the board that there is “currently at least one individual every week within the district testing positive, leading to the quarantining of students.” 

Typhanie Jackson, NHPS director of student services, laid out the measures the district has taken to mitigate the complications of students quarantining, which include tutoring resources provided by Yale students. 

Of the 50 classes that have been quarantined, Jackson told the board that 92 percent of students have taken advantage of tutoring services to help with their education. These tutors are assigned by grade level. 

As of Tuesday night, the district has hired three former teachers to help assist with students who are quarantining.  

Along with discussing COVID-19 updates, the Board spoke about staff training and metrics related to the district’s student code of conduct. The Board of Education had passed a new Student Code of Conduct this February, aiming to change disciplinary practices from punitive to restorative. The new code is currently not published on the New Haven public school system website. Instead, the old policy from the 2019-20 school year is posted. 

On Oct. 13, all New Haven public school system staff members participated in training related to the new code of conduct. Chief of Youth, Family, and Community Engagement Gemma Joseph Lumpkin said that there will be more “intensive training” through Jan. 5. Joseph Lumpkin laid out the new philosophy for this training through a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King: “Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require qualitative change in our souls as well as quantitative change in our lives.” 

“When we train our administrators tomorrow as part of our ongoing efforts to bring that restorative lens and what restorative practices mean, this quote will be the center of our work,”  Joseph Lumpkin said. 

The district is working through intensive training, and its biggest achievement so far, according to Joseph Lumpkin, is hiring restorative coaches — experts who work with teachers and principals to reduce student suspensions — to support schools. She said that at least one staff member in each school is a “restorative ambassador.” 

These initiatives were promised in April through $80 million in federal funding from the American Rescue Plan. That same month, Assistant Superintendent Keisha Redd-Hannans told the Board of Education that NHPS would be hiring two new restorative coaches and investing in professional development for restorative justice. 

New Haven public school system officials are also working to dispel the myth that this new system is mainly focusing on reducing suspensions and expulsions. Joseph Lumpkin said that about 80 percent of the work within this initiative emphasizes preventing “harm from happening in the first place.” Joseph Lumpkin explained that the crux of the New Haven public school system’s restorative justice approach is six components of community planning: community building, classroom agreements, effective language, problem-solving, conflict harm circles and formal restorative conferencing. 

District administrators are visiting local schools to emphasize the restorative approach. This includes formal conferencing and student discussions to underscore how students play a significant role in the district’s initiative, according to Joseph Lumpkin. 

The Board of Education also discussed the metrics that would be used to gauge success. Board of Education member Matt Wilcox asked how the district planned to measure success, given that “restorative justice is a long term goal, and we need to be sure that we can quantifiably measure improvement.” 

District administrators responded by laying out both how old metrics, which included the number of suspensions and expulsions, would be used alongside new statistics. For example, a newly developed self-assessment for teachers and administrators will be used to judge if the new system is working. Director of Student Services Typhanie Jackson explained that, “the district is also adopting newer metrics like when the student was referred and by whom to see whether or not our system is working.”

There are 44 institutions in the New Haven Public School district.

YASH ROY