It took us three years, but in 2007, parents and community groups won new policies for discipline in Chicago Public Schools. Instead of the rigid and arbitrary rules of “zero tolerance” there is a new philosophy of restorative justice in the Student Code of Conduct.
Now, schools, parents, and communities can organize school based programs such as Peace Circles, Peer Juries, community service, and more as alternatives to suspension, expulsion or arrest. Restorative justice emphasizes teaching the student who misbehaved and offering that student a chance to “repair the harm” that he or she caused.
We know from our own families that the chance to learn from mistakes—and fix the damage that has been done—is how we build trust and community. Restorative justice in schools teaches children to understand the impact of their behavior and take responsibility.
Parents have to be involved, and take the initiative in local schools. But we also need to know our rights, and understand the system! Part of this guide is sharing what we believe is important to know when your son or daughter is suspended, expelled, or otherwise punished in a way that you think is unfair or inappropriate.
Finally—we want to inspire parents across the city to work together to make sure that these new policies and practices are put into place. Let’s prevent misbehavior and resolve conflicts before violence or other bad things happen to more of our children.