Why districts are adopting restorative justice practices

Suspending students from school can lead to incarceration but restorative justice could reduce conflicts, studies show
By: | November 19, 2019
School restorative justice is a growing trend as K-12 administrators are replacing out of school suspensions with restorative practices.gettyimages.com: SolStock

School systems are adopting restorative practices through various means to build relationships with students and school staff rather than using out of school suspensions — which can lead to incarceration. 

Teachers are even fighting for school restorative justice coordinators to be part of their support staff. Chicago’s longest teacher strike in three decades recently ended with an agreement to hire these coordinators along with more counselors, reported The Appeal.

In Chicago, three out of four students who are funneled into the criminal justice system for disciplinary violations are black, according to a 2013 study by ThinkProgress. But negative behaviors and future conflicts among students could be reduced if schools adopted restorative justice policies, according to a recent study by the RAND Corporation.

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In California, many districts are adopting restorative practices after the state passed a new law that prohibits elementary and middle schools from using out of school suspensions. 

For example, West Sonoma County Union High School District will start using restorative practices for discipline issues that get elevated to the administration level only, a vice principal told Sonoma West Times & News. Some teachers are using restorative techniques for classroom discipline, though district leaders have yet to make this a requirement.

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In Florida, frustrated parents of students in Pinellas County Schools believe the restorative practices that the district recently implemented haven’t done enough, since administrators “don’t come up with any type of solution” to prevent out of school suspensions, said one parent to ABC Action News.

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In Alabama, discipline issues have diminished since school restorative justice programs were implemented at Trussville City Schools, a District Administration District of Distinction honoree. Counselors teach character skills, and each student has at least five adults in the building with whom they are personally connected and to whom they can go for help or support, Superintendent Pattie Neill told DA.

In South Carolina, Richland County School District One now has the ability to tailor level 1 interventions to meet the needs and circumstances of the student after revising the student code of conduct so that minor infractions lead to activities such as restorative justice, Craig Witherspoon said in a DA op-ed.

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To adopt restorative practices-based cultures, administrators first need to address staff skepticism, build trust and understand that changing school culture is a long-term process that involves buy-in from all key stakeholders, especially students “who should be engaged as leaders in developing and sustaining restorative practice,” wrote retired New Jersey Superintendent John Kellmayer in a recent op-ed.

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Districts leaders, Kellmayer added, must also establish a shared vision, provide training to all school community members, share best practices and celebrate successes.

Resource: School Restorative Justice: SEL in Action