Restorative Justice

***READER DISCRETION IS ADVISED***

Posts about real school tragedy, crime and/or events can be upsetting.

Robin Lyons Blog

When I was a school bus driver, I learned that when the kids were amped up or treating someone mean it was more effective to pull the bus over and park.

When the kids finally noticed we were no longer moving and wondered why—I would tell them what was going on, who was involved and that I’d wait until they were able to settle down or stop bullying (whatever the situation was).

I’d unfasten my seat belt, turn around and look at several dozen sets of eyes looking at me. #PeerPressure

After a minute or so, I’d let them know I’d resume driving if the behavior stopped, but every time the shenanigans happened again, I would park the bus again. They tested me. And I followed through. We’d settled in after the first week of school. They behaved well and arrived home on time. 

BLOG POST #127: This week, I’m sharing research on Restorative Justice.

Per the U.S. Department of Education: States and districts are increasingly in support of policies and practices that shift school discipline away from zero tolerance, such as suspension and expulsion, to discipline that is focused on teaching and engagement.

What is Restorative Justice?

Restorative Justice is shifting how discipline is handled from punitive to repairing the harm that has been done.

This philosophy isn’t new. It stems from centuries of peacemaking systems in indigenous cultures.

Students develop empathy for their peers, build trust and understanding.

What A Wonderful World It Could Be

When done correctly, Restorative Justice can change the school culture; students can be more respectful, responsible and engaged. Changing old and outdated processes requires commitment and effort. Staff, parents, students, and the community must be in agreement, or the shift may never get off the starting block.

Here’s an example:

A female high school student leaves her cell phone out during class. A male friend uses the phone and sends out some rude texts to people; one was the girl’s parent. The girl was in trouble at home and tried to explain it was the boy.

The girl submitted her friend’s cell phone prank to the school’s Justice Committee, made up of students, for consideration to mediate. The committee sits in a circle and includes the two who have a dispute (sitting across from each other). The committee has rules, pre-determined questions and only one person speaks at a time.

The girl told the group how much trouble she got into because of the prank. The boy was asked what he thought would happen when he texted hurtful comments on her phone, how did he feel about what’s happened since, etc. He admitted he felt like ‘crap’ after he learned the girl had gotten into trouble. He thought his prank would be funny. And he understood that he’d gone too far with the prank.

The committee determined the boy needed to make amends for his actions and apologize to the girl’s parent. They also decided the girl needed to accept responsibility for having violated a school rule when she had her phone accessible during class time.

Total Commitment Required

Once students understand the new process and what will happen when they act out, behaviors change. An outcome similarly to what I experienced as a bus driver.

To be successful with Restorative Justice, it must be implemented and run correctly. All parties (staff, parent, students, and the community) need to have clear objectives, consistent protocols, and the student committee must remain non-judgmental.

More information on Restorative Justice is available on the U.S. Department of Education website.

What do you think about Restorative Justice? Join the conversation on the website. We talk about the sensitive subject of crimes occurring at or connected to schools. Your relevant comments are always welcome on the Research Blog.

Do you know of a school crime you’d like to share? Email me so we can discuss the details.

Thanks for reading!

-Robin

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