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Restorative justice helps at-risk kids in Oakland

March 3, 2013

Now 18, she admitted she almost got into another heated fight with a female student at her school just months ago. Morgan, Salmeri, and Smith all credit the same man for stopping them from fighting: Eric Butler.

He’s the one who brings students into what he calls “The Circle” for healing. Instead of suspension or even expulsion, Butler works with Betsye Steele, Bunche High School principal, to gather students who are fighting or are on the verge of trouble together in the same room to talk things out. He’s the coordinator for “Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth” (RJOY),  a program funded by Measure Y money. 

Butler said Bunche is one of three schools in the city using RJOY to solve problems in the classroom and pointed to the numbers in explaining why his school had the most success. He said last year the number of suspensions was cut down by 75 percent. This year, he said with a smile, they’re on track to a near-perfect rate of preventing suspensions altogether.

“They’re still really little kids in big kid bodies and communication is key.”

Wednesday afternoon, teachers listened to both Steele and Butler on what the restorative justice philosophy is, and the best way to apply it in their own classrooms. Steele explained, “We have to work with developing not just students, but the staff. The whole staff.”

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