As the current school year draws to a close, administrators are looking ahead to 2017-18.  Looming large is the new Michigan law requiring schools to consider restorative justice before imposing long-term suspensions or expelling students.  This law takes effect August 1st, so schools will need to be ready to comply before the first student walks through the door. What does that mean to your school?  Each school community will answer that question differently. Some will give RJ a cursory glance, then keep suspending and expelling students under the traditional punitive system. Others will learn about the restorative philosophy and decide
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I share the basics.  Restorative justice discipline is based on ancient principles of addressing the harm resulting from misconduct, rather than focusing on what rule was broken.  It defines accountability as healing the harm caused by one’s actions rather than taking the punishment.  Conducted in an atmosphere of equal respect for all parties in a conflict or discipline hearing, restorative interventions are almost always facilitated with everyone sitting in a circle at the same height.  This equality underscores the harm-doer’s membership in a community that values him/her and intends to hold her/him accountable for making things right as much as
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In the late 1990s when zero tolerance policies started in our nation’s schools they were designed to keep students safe.  This was the Three-Strikes-and-You’re-Out era when everyone was “getting tough on crime.”  And, like so many criminal justice processes, we extended those policies and attitudes to our schools.  Then, shocked by the Columbine High School massacre, our society responded in our typical fashion: we doubled down on punishment. For years, and with each subsequent school shooting, we got tougher.  Here in Michigan ten-day suspensions were handed down for all sorts of conduct violations from fights to insubordination.  Michigan’s Zero Tolerance
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This August a new law takes effect requiring schools to consider restorative justice before imposing any long-term suspension or expulsion.  Further, the law creates a rebuttable presumption that students should stay in school.  This is a significant departure from Zero Tolerance that demanded suspension for any number of infractions. With spring break on their doorstep, schools don’t have much time to prepare administrators to comply with this law and learn about restorative justice.  Luckily, we have some trainings coming up that can help. When restorative justice philosophy, principles and practices are woven into school culture and operations, the process changes
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Last week I was honored and delighted to celebrate Governor Snyder’s signing of legislation that loosens Zero Tolerance chokehold on school discipline.  Under legislation sponsored by Representative Andy Schor and Senator Rick Jones, schools are now encouraged to consider restorative justice to address even the most severe discipline incidents that once resulted in mandatory suspension or expulsion.  In fact, Senator Jones’ amendment establishes a rebuttable presumption that students should stay in school, rather than be suspended or expelled for every offense except bringing a firearm to school. These bills haven’t gotten as much attention as the potential role-back of the
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I had lunch last week with a friend who asked me about my work.  I gave her my elevator speech explanation of Restorative Justice, and she replied: “I believe in it.  I just think you need a better name for it.” Boy, I couldn’t agree more.  I told her I’ve wracked my brain to think of a shorter, more direct word or phrase that fully encompasses the concept of mutual accountability, forgiveness and unity.  The closest English word I can think of is atone because it combines two words: at & one, and RJ is a process that brings people
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In the early 2000s, I had the privilege of working in schools as Restorative Justice Coordinator.  In that role, I deeply admired the children and youth who worked through their conflicts in the RJ Room.  I carry many of their faces and stories tenderly in my heart today. Now, I share their stories as I train a new generation of RJ Coordinators and Circle Facilitators.  Although my students are all grown up, episodes of middle school and high school turmoil like theirs play out in schools and communities throughout our world.  The need for restorative discipline anchored in a restorative
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Over the holidays, the Michigan legislature gave learning communities a great gift–a bi-partisan bill package that updates the Revised School Code (MCL 303.1310).  This legislation expands options dictated under zero tolerance measures.  Better still, it empowers schools to use more productive, developmental discipline that includes consideration of mitigating factors and an exploration of whether restorative justice practices could be used in addition to, or instead of, suspension or expulsion. PA 360-363 (originally known as HB 5618-5621) shift the discipline paradigm from zero tolerance’s punitive and exclusion-based assumptions.  In its place, the laws create a “rebuttable assumption” that long-term suspension (10
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