Restorative Circles help curb chronic tardies


Helen Le, Editor-in-Chief

Getting through the school day may be a struggle for some students, and that struggle often begins with failing to attend first period on time. Unfortunately, there has not been a tardy policy that has effectively addressed students who have an especially difficult time arriving to school before the tardy bell rings.

One of the matters discussed during the Office for Civil Rights’ (OCR) visitation included the issue of the high numbers of tardies. Last quarter saw a total of 3,474 tardies in the first quarter, with 2,247 originating from first period. In the first quarter of this year, that number jumped to 4,720 total tardies, with 2,853 of them originating from first period.

A reason for the increase in tardies is obvious: Bear Creek’s student population has increased by about 6 percent. Accordingly, there has only been a small increase in the percentage of students with high tardy counts in the first quarter of this year compared to the last. About 48 percent of students had at least one tardy in the first quarter last year, as compared to about 56 percent this year. A little under 0.04 percent of students had over 10 tardies last year, compared to about 0.06 percent now.

The growth of the student population still does not account for students who are repeatedly tardy, however. Additionally, Bear Creek’s tardy policy is not perfect; for example, students who arrive a minute late to their class must walk all the way to the office for a pass, then back to their classroom, wasting even more time.

“One of the unfortunate aspects of our tardy policy is that it encourages the exact thing we don’t want, which is students being out of class,” Principal Hillary Harrell said.

Students who are repeatedly tardy are also often late due to reasons beyond their control.

“Most of the people that are chronically late, that are late more than once, repetitively — they have their own problems going on,” senior Khennathan Chorn said.

Conflict mediation teacher Lisa Deeter holds Restorative Circles for students who are chronically truant as an attempt to combat this issue. Students sit down with each other to discuss their tardies and to think of ideas to reduce tardies.

“The purpose… is kind of humanizing what the problem is,” Deeter said. “It’s nearly impossible to get here on time for some students, so [the purpose is] getting the full story and the full picture as to why they’re tardy and then kind of brainstorming and [to give] them an incentive as well to get to class on time.”

If students can remain tardy-free for a period of time, usually approximately a week, then their detentions and in-school suspensions are wiped clean for the one time so that students aren’t burdened by reasons out of their control.

“Especially for [chronically tardy] people who have a lot of things after school like extracurricular activities, like if they’re part of clubs or if they have to make up a test or anything like that, [detention] really gets in the way,” Chorn said.

The Restorative Circles have a 43 percent success rate so far, based on the results of five circles and 51 participants.

“I consider it pretty successful,” Deeter said. “It really ultimately comes down to making connections with students about why they’re tardy, helping them come to the realization… having them see the bigger picture [that] it’s not just being tardy, it’s their grades, it’s everything kind of looped into it… and seeing the value of school, and it’s easier said than done sometimes.”

Harrell’s conversation with the OCR representatives mainly centered on why the current tardy policy is not as effective as desired, since solutions have proven difficult to find.

“We have wildly high numbers of tardies and we’re not seeing a change with what we’re currently doing, so we’re going to change it for next year, but it’s gonna take us about a year to get us to that place where we’re able to have a policy that works that I think will be effective,” Harrell said.

Bear Creek’s current tardy policy was implemented in the spring of 2014, replacing Saturday School as a punishment for missing detentions with Behavior Intervention (BI).

“As the numbers seem high now, at that time they were significantly worse then,” BI supervisor Daniel Romero said in an email to faculty about the tardy policy. “With regards to the current tardy policy, I do believe we need to change it but change so it does not have the same consequences for your second tardy as your 42[nd] tardy.”

Suggestions for a new tardy policy have prompted an email discussion about a committee to review the current policy. Not all teachers agree.

“The problem with finding a systemic solution is one size never fits all,” Integrated Math teacher Dave Goodwin said in the same email chain. “Why not try to identify those students that have the most disregard for promptness and develop an individualized plan for them.”