Many parents remember student discipline from their school years consisting of such things as standing in the corner, writing punishment assignments, Saturday detentions, or out of school suspensions. In 2014, the Department of Education issued guidelines for schools to reconsider the use of excessive disciplinary punishments such as suspensions and expulsions in favor of more positive approaches like Restorative Justice. Although there are many different approaches, Restorative Justice is sometimes used as an all-encompassing term to incorporate the vast array of strategies to address and student behavior in a more reflective manner.
Restorative justice has its origins in juvenile justice in the 1970s as a means to address a large number of young people entangled in the legal system in an attempt to replace their negative behaviors with positive ones that could prevent future incidents. This was a much more personal approach that included such practices as meditation and coping strategies.
In recent years, some educational leaders across the United States have begun to adopt these practices into their schools as a means of addressing all discipline issues in a much more personal manner through inclusive processes. The widespread embrace of this approach has been attributed to a few things.
One of the contributing factors stems from the perceived failure of the zero-tolerance policies that had been developed in the 1980s and 1990s. Many critics found these policies enforcing harsh penalties that sometimes only served to isolate the aggressors as well as the victims through lengthy suspensions or even expulsions. Also, in analyzing some of the data during this time, racial and gender disparities began to develop regarding who was being disciplined and the severity of those punishments. Lastly, some researchers have even suggested that this approach to student discipline can contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline.
Another primary reason that some experts have discouraged suspensions and expulsions is that it has detrimental adverse academic effects on students. Additional research has also suggested that these punishments do not necessarily decrease future incidents.
Alternately, some opponents to Restorative Justice feel that a lack of substantive consequences will only promote continued discipline issues that will further disrupt the ability for schools to deliver quality instruction. Others even argue that it takes away critical tools that teachers and administrators use to operate their classrooms and schools.
Proponents of Restorative Justice believe in a comprehensive approach that sees for the offender to understand what he/she did wrong as well as help them find ways to provide restitution that also can be used to remedy some of the racial disparities in previous disciplinary approaches. The types of activities used in Restorative Justice could include counseling, mediation, Peace Circles, victim assistance, restitution, community service, apologies, or specific behavioral therapy. Some of the challenges implementing restorative justice in schools include increased training time, appropriate staffing, financial resources, teach buy-in, and additional time requirements.
For this approach to indeed be effective, the school must work together as a team to support the student where the teachers, parents, coach, and administrators work collaboratively using RJ. They can participate in any of the activities mentioned above, such as the Peace Circle, where they share their own experiences, which could include strategies on how to handle stressful stations. Perhaps one of the most significant challenges of RJ, is that it requires the buy-in for the faculty and support staff to see some great. This requires professional development for all of the stakeholders, including the students and parents, that should be revisited regularly to ensure that the program is progressing.