Restorative practices within schools focuses on teaching self-discipline, self-governance, collective efficacy, and assists students as they take ownership of their actions through a restorative justice framework that is unique to a particular school culture, encompassing the needs, goals, and objectives of that particular school’s mission and commitment to the larger community in which it resides. Restorative approaches within schools can take on many forms including (but not limited to) the following: 1) removal of out-of-school suspensions, in-school suspensions, and expulsions; 2) implementation of prevention programs such as violence programs, and bullying prevention programs; 3) training on discipline practices for students, staff, and parents within a school community; 4) peer juries and/or peer sentencing circles; 5) peace circles or peace centers; 6) group conferencing and family group conferencing; 7) peer mediation and/or victim-offender mediation; 8) victim impact panels or boards; and 9) community service programs.
Restorative justice “moves school discipline away from “offend, suspend, and reoffend” by [instead] engaging in dialogue that helps people to understand why the incident occurred, how to resolve the conflict, and teaches alternatives to violence and aggression” Zehr through the various forms of restorative practices within schools. There are many types of restorative practices that can be utilized effectively within schools including problem solving groups, peer mediation, intervention, group/circle conferencing, family group conferencing, and conflict resolution strategies, which encompass the principles and goals of the restorative justice model and conceptual framework.
For those schools which have already implemented restorative practices as either a whole-school approach, or partial restorative justice approach, these schools have seen a substantial reduction in both the number of students suspended and a reduced amount of serious behavioral incidents occurring. In West Philadelphia High School, Pennsylvania, “violent acts and serious incidents were down 52% in 2007-2008 [as] compared to 2006-2007” (International Institute for Restorative Practices [IIRP], 2009, p. 7), and the number of students suspended once or twice decreased more than 75% in both categories after implementing restorative practices within their high school. In Pottstown High School, Pennsylvania, out-of-school suspensions from 2006-2007 to 2007-2008 were reduced by more than 50% after implementing restorative practices, and the principal there stated: “[there] has been a significant reduction in discipline problems, disrespect and fighting, and students are more accountable…[there’s] no more feeling of us versus them. Staff and kids are all one team”. In Newtown Middle School, Pennsylvania, after implementing restorative practices, disciplinary incidents decreased during 2004-2005 to 2005-2006 by more than 50%, and the principal there stated: “[restorative] practices has changed the feeling and culture here. Now it’s like a family setting. Everyone asks for help and helps others…Kids are far more likely to behave due to relationships than out of fear”.
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