Baltimore City Councilman Zeke Cohen stands in front of Baltimore City Hall accompanied by parents, students, teachers, and community leaders to encourage restorative practices in schools. Photo courtesy of Zeke Cohen/Twitter.

After two Baltimore City students were shot — including one who was killed — in separate incidents within the first weeks of the new school year, community leaders are calling for a new approach to reducing violence.

Last week, Baltimore City Council member Zeke Cohen (District 1) and supporters assembled in front of City Hall to call for a resolution tackling violence in Baltimore City schools.

The councilman was joined by Baltimore City school board member Durryle Brooks and members of the Parent Community Advisory Board, The Baltimore Teachers Union, The Healing Youth Alliance, The Peace Team, the “We Our Us” Movement, and Baltimore City Trauma-Informed Care Taskforce.

The call to action came after 17-year-old Mergenthaler Vocational Technical High School junior Jeremiah Brogden was shot and killed on school grounds during dismissal Sept. 2. Just days later, a 15-year-old student was shot outside of Carver Vocational High school Sept. 7.

Following the City Hall gathering, at Monday’s city council meeting Cohen proposed all Baltimore City schools implement restorative practices, an “evidence based approach to teaching conflict resolution, mediation and accountability.”

Members of the Baltimore City Council voted unanimously for the resolution, but it will be up to Baltimore City Public Schools to decide what changes to adopt.

“This resolution is not the same as an ordinance. It’s more of a statement by the body,” Cohen said. The Baltimore City Public Schools system is not under the council’s jurisdiction and therefore the council cannot control policy decisions, but Cohen expects restorative practices will be implemented. 

Larry Simmons, chairman of the Parent and Community Advisory board said [the shootings] “gave us an opportunity to rethink how we value young people and educate young people. But there must be a systemic change.” 

A 2018 Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy study found that restorative practices in Baltimore City schools improved school climate. Those schools saw improved relationships between students and teachers, and more than 40% reduction in suspensions.

“The study proves it,” Cohen said. “We know that this is an effective set of practices when implemented well.” 

Restorative practices can vary, including both informal and formal conversations “using restorative
dialogue to repair or prevent harm,” such as expressing emotions using “I” statements and other tools, according to the Hopkins study.

The Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners and city schools CEO Sonja Santelises have partnered with Open Society Institute in a pledge to ensure over the next five years every staff member in the district is trained in and uses restorative practices in their daily work.

Johns Hopkins research suggests the entire school district should implement restorative practices by 2022, but less than one-third of city schools have participated in the training process.

After a 2019 shooting at Frederick Douglass High School in West Baltimore, three students — Jaionna Santos, Bryonna Harris and Damani Thomas — testified to the Baltimore City Council that too much energy was being spent thinking about how to better police students. They wanted to see more of a focus on prevention particularly around preventing trauma and mental health.

Cohen worked with those teens to write legislation around trauma. The Trauma-Informed Care Act, which was later renamed the Elijah Cummings Healing City Act, addresses “trauma on a systemic level and provides trauma-informed training for all city agencies,” Cohen said.

“We need to make sure the social and emotional health of our children is prioritized,” he said. “Our kids are experiencing a lot of turmoil and trauma. And we want to make sure our educators feel supported and can support our children. Unless we address the mental health crisis that fuels violence, we end up running in circles.”

When asked what the community can do for support, Cohen said, “This is definitely a citywide, community effort. It is not just on our schools to eradicate conflict. The violence that we see in city schools is a direct reflection of the violence we experience in our communities.”

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Latrice Hill

Latrice Hill is a Baltimore native and Morgan State University graduate who loves all the great things this city has to offer. She worked with WMAR 2-News as an Assignment Desk Editor before she joined...