FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Restorative Justice (or RJ) is a peaceful conflict resolution approach that is both a philosophy and practice. It defines misconduct as a violation of relationships and accountability as healing the harm that violation caused. By valuing relationship over rules and accountability over punishment, RJ can empower participants to transform conflict into connection and discipline into development.

Traditionally in our society and schools, when we look at misconduct we ask:

    1. What rule was broken?
    2.  Who broke that rule?
    3. What consequence does the rule-breaker deserve?

Usually that rule-breaker’s punishment involves separation—suspension, expulsion, incarceration—imposed by an authority figure such as a school principal, school board or a judge.
Restorative justice looks at the same incident of misconduct and asks three different questions:

  1. What harm resulted from the incident?
  2. Who has a responsibility to heal that harm?
  3. How can the harm be made right, as much as possible?

Those questions are considered in a community of those directly affected by the misconduct. Through consensus, this group explores what happened from every member’s perspective then develops an agreement for what must happen to heal the harm. This agreement spells out how the community holds rule-breakers accountable by keeping them in community and expecting them to make right their wrong. These agreements, however, might also require steps to address underlying conditions that contributed to the harm.

It absolutely works.  Consider this excerpt from the National School Boards Association publication, American School Board Journal’s cover story of August 2016:

“Ed White Middle School reduced out-of-school suspensions by 87 percent and in-school suspensions by 29 percent in the first year of implementing restorative practices, says Marilyn Armour, who worked with the school as director of the University of Texas at Austin’s Institute for Restorative Justice and Restorative Dialogue. In-school suspensions fell by another 52 percent for the pilot group in the second year; tardies declined by 39 percent. The once-academically challenged school achieved stars of distinction for student performance in English, math, and social studies.”  P.16

Here’s an insider’s look into the effects of RJ on White Middle School as reported by the San Antonio Express News, “One S.A. school changed its discipline culture — can others?  Pilot discipline program ends at White Middle School” By Francisco Vara-Orta July 11, 2015 Updated: July 13, 2015 10:16am

“Liz Washington, who has taught sixth-graders at White for seven years, remembers the skepticism when the discipline protocols changed there. She would spend at least a third of every class period trying to get students to behave, then an hour and half weekly writing punishment referrals.

“I would hate coming to work every day,” Washington said. “Now I have zero discipline problems.”

Building connections with students and understanding them makes for better classroom management, she said. She recently apologized to a student she had written up frequently when he was an eighth-grader and who had been held back a grade partly because he had missed so much instructional time.

“Had I known about him what I know now, I wonder maybe if he’d be in high school,” Washington said.”

 

Or this Slate article of Feb. 23 2016 12:24 PM, “Hillary Clinton Wants to End the School-to-Prison Pipeline. She Should Embrace Restorative Justice to Do It.”  By Alexandria Neason

“The method is in use in a few notable places, like the Oakland Unified School District in California. “Whole school restorative justice” began there in 2005, . . . The district reports a narrowing of the “discipline gap” between black and white students: the percentage of student participants who were suspended dropped by half from 34 percent in 2011 to 14 percent two years later. Similar programs can be found in schools in Chicago; Duval County, Florida; Nashville, Tennessee; across Texas; and elsewhere.”

It absolutely works.  Consider this excerpt from the National School Boards Association publication, American School Board Journal’s cover story of August 2016:

“Ed White Middle School reduced out-of-school suspensions by 87 percent and in-school suspensions by 29 percent in the first year of implementing restorative practices, says Marilyn Armour, who worked with the school as director of the University of Texas at Austin’s Institute for Restorative Justice and Restorative Dialogue. In-school suspensions fell by another 52 percent for the pilot group in the second year; tardies declined by 39 percent. The once-academically challenged school achieved stars of distinction for student performance in English, math, and social studies.”  P.16

Here’s an insider’s look into the effects of RJ on White Middle School as reported by the San Antonio Express News, “One S.A. school changed its discipline culture — can others?  Pilot discipline program ends at White Middle School” By Francisco Vara-Orta July 11, 2015 Updated: July 13, 2015 10:16am

“Liz Washington, who has taught sixth-graders at White for seven years, remembers the skepticism when the discipline protocols changed there. She would spend at least a third of every class period trying to get students to behave, then an hour and half weekly writing punishment referrals.

“I would hate coming to work every day,” Washington said. “Now I have zero discipline problems.”

Building connections with students and understanding them makes for better classroom management, she said. She recently apologized to a student she had written up frequently when he was an eighth-grader and who had been held back a grade partly because he had missed so much instructional time.

“Had I known about him what I know now, I wonder maybe if he’d be in high school,” Washington said.”

 

Or this Slate article of Feb. 23 2016 12:24 PM, “Hillary Clinton Wants to End the School-to-Prison Pipeline. She Should Embrace Restorative Justice to Do It.”  By Alexandria Neason

“The method is in use in a few notable places, like the Oakland Unified School District in California. “Whole school restorative justice” began there in 2005, . . . The district reports a narrowing of the “discipline gap” between black and white students: the percentage of student participants who were suspended dropped by half from 34 percent in 2011 to 14 percent two years later. Similar programs can be found in schools in Chicago; Duval County, Florida; Nashville, Tennessee; across Texas; and elsewhere.”

Consider the following excerpt the National School Boards Association publication, American School Board Journal’s cover story of August 2016:

“A recent analysis by UCLA’s Civil Rights Project estimates that suspensions in 10th grade alone probably result in more than 67,000 additional high school dropouts nationally. Over the course of a lifetime, each additional dropout is responsible for $163,000 in lost tax revenue and $364,000 in other social costs, such as health care and criminal justice expenses, according to the study. Cumulatively, the cost for those 67,000 dropouts exceeds $35 billion, a likely conservative estimate, say researchers.”  P.17

Perhaps the message comes best from Oakland (California) Unified School District, Superintended when his district integrated RJ into all its schools.  He is quoted in the article, “Oakland ends suspensions for willful defiance, funds restorative justice” by Susan Frey | May 14, 2015  appears on Edsource.

 

“If we are to ensure that success for Oakland children is not determined by cultural background or neighborhood, it means that we must build strong relationships with our students at school and invest deeply in restorative practices,” said superintendent Antwan Wilson in a letter to the community distributed prior to the board meeting. “This is about re-integrating students into the classroom rather than excluding them from learning.”

Not right, according to The Kids Count Data Center which released the following report February 12, 2016 in an article titled Compared to their Classmates, Kids of Color More Likely to be Removed from Classrooms

“Students who are removed from school can quickly fall behind and struggle academically when and if they return to class, according to research.

Across the country, out-of-school suspension rates are highest for black students at 15%. In comparison, just 2% of Asian students, 4% of white students, and 6% of Latino students are suspended from public school.

The racial disparities deepen for data on expulsion rates. Black and American Indian kids are 10 times more likely than their Asian counterparts to be expelled from public school. These students are also expelled at twice the rate of their Latino classmates and 3 times the rate of white students, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection.

graph-race

At the state level, expulsion rates for kids of color vary widely. For instance: In Florida, 4 in every 10,000 black students are expelled. At the other end of the spectrum, in Oklahoma, 401 in every 10,000 black students are expelled from school each year.”

 

Consider the following excerpt from US Department of Education Guiding Principles, citing data from the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) for the 2011-12 school year:

“Nationwide, data collected by our Office for Civil Rights show that youths of color and youths with disabilities are disproportionately impacted by suspensions and expulsions. For example, data show that African-American students without disabilities are more than three times as likely as their white peers without disabilities to be expelled or suspended. Although students who receive special education services represent 12 percent of students in the country, they make up 19 percent of students suspended in school, 20 percent of students receiving out-of-school suspension once, 25 percent of students receiving multiple out-of-school suspensions, 19 percent of students expelled, 23 percent of students referred to law enforcement, and 23 percent of students receiving a school-related arrest. P.7

Results like this are not uncommon when schools integrate the restorative philosophy and empower students and staff to resolve issues before they turn into conflicts.  That’s why the following entities advocate its use in schools:

Restorative Justice is not a new program you can buy.  It is an approach to misconduct and conflict that ancient cultures have used through the ages and many parents consider developmental discipline.  Humans evolved in community, and if our forebears had cast out their children the first time they hurt someone through a mistake or poor choice, you and I probably wouldn’t be here today.  This philosophy and process comes to western society from American Indians, First Nations, Maori and other cultures that view individual members as important parts of the whole, capable of and responsible for healing the harm they cause to others.  Many will recognize this as a process our parents followed when we took something that didn’t belong to us, for example, or hit a baseball through our neighbor’s window.  Rather than kicking us out of our families, our parents likely held us accountable—maybe requiring that we apologize for our action and return the stolen item or pay for the window repair.  Still under our parents’ roof, once we made things right life returned to normal for most of us.  Taking responsibility for our actions, making things right and maintaining our place as a treasured part of our family or community.  Although our society and schools are just formally acknowledging the value of this approach to discipline, it’s really an ancient process whose time has come.

Simply adopting this restorative philosophy is the first step in changing your school’s discipline paradigm from punishment and exclusion to accountability and development.  To help you, the Michigan Department of Education has developed resources to smooth your transition.  Get familiar with the Michigan State Board of Education’s policy on Reducing Student Suspensions and Expulsions which encourages restorative discipline where possible and appropriate in schools.  The State Board of Education also developed a Model Code of Student Conduct ready for schools to adapt to their system’s protocols.

When you’re ready to begin using RJ practices, the Michigan Department of Education offers an Alternatives to Suspension and Expulsion Tool Kit that provides guidance on enacting culture change and addressing behavioral concerns using non-exclusionary methods including RJ.  This Tool Kit includes an 11-segment training in Restorative Justice philosophy, principles and practices designed for groups or individual use.  Nancy Schertzing created this training for the Department of Education to give educators a thorough introduction to RJ so they can integrate its principles and practices into their classrooms and communities.  All are free and available on-line by clicking on the links embedded here.

Schertzing Communications offers restorative justice trainings from a one-day introduction to a two-day restorative circles or conferencing seminar.  We even have a Train-the-Trainers seminar coming up January  —, 2016 at this page.

In addition, a number of Community Dispute Resolution Program Centers across Michigan offer RJ services to schools along with mediations to the public.  Some provide direct services such as restorative justice facilitation and/or RJ training.  Find the CDRP center nearest you and contact them to see what RJ services they can provide.