Introducing Restorative Justice
Updated: Sep 20, 2018
Exclusionary discipline can be described as any school disciplinary practice that removes children from the learning environment. The evolution of suspensions and expulsions has led schools to “zero tolerance” policies where more and more children are being taken out of school – often times with a heavier impact on male students and students of color.
With school mandates beginning only about one hundred years ago, it is shocking how young the US educational system is. Corporal punishment ruled for most of the 1900’s, the focus on fear-based policies of the 1990’s is really the reason for the need of a philosophical shift when it comes to school discipline. Along the same argument, students who feel connected to people in the school community are less likely to endanger it.
When an undesired behavior happens in the classroom, traditional discipline systems tend to have punishments designed to remove the wrong-doer. Detentions, suspensions, and losing recess all pushes the student further out of the community. Many researchers believe that situations like this start to influence the student's belief in the school community, leading to more undesired behaviors, and potentially dropping out or getting expelled. Students start to see at a young age that their membership in the community has contingencies, but these contingencies aren't always fairly or equitably enforced. On April 18, 2018, the New York Times reported, "The Obama administration guidance was issued based on data that showed that, in 2012, black students were being suspended at three times the rate of their white peers. According to the G.A.O. analysis, in the 2013-14 school year, black students accounted for 15.5 percent of all public school students, but represented about 39 percent of students suspended from school."
Now, we need to look at this news critically too. What are we supposed to do to keep our schools safe when students are exhibiting unsafe behaviors? One statistic does not paint the picture of the entire situation; however, we can use these stats to examine our own practice through that lens.
When you consider discipline in your classroom, do you find yourself repeatedly intervening with the same students? Why is this? Part of what we need to accept is that some students come with biological, systemic, psychological, or environmental advantages that make them more equipped to behave in an appropriate and predictable way. Restorative Justice is a way to offer avenues back into the classroom and school community after undesired behaviors take place, often as a result of disadvantages for that student.
To be clear, we are not necessarily claiming that exclusionary options (detentions, suspensions, etc...) are never the appropriate option. When a student does not chose to follow through with the restorative plan, sometimes consequences will need to be more direct. That being said, we should be critical of when we could be offering a restorative option and teach our students to come up with creative and reflective solutions instead of just accepting punishment.
Take a look at our post "Can I have a restorative option?" to learn more about designing restorative discipline in your classroom!