Using carrots instead of sticks: Restorative justice in student discipline
By Maryam Brotine
Maryam Brotine is assistant general counsel for the Illinois Association of School Boards.
Restorative justice, also known as Balanced and Restorative Justice is “a philosophy based on a set of principles that guide the response to conflict and harm,” according to Implementing Restorative Justice: A Guide for Schools. This guide further outlines the three main goals of restorative justice:
- Accountability — Restorative justice strategies provide opportunities for wrongdoers to be accountable to those they have harmed, and enable them to repair the harm they caused to the extent possible.
- Community Safety — Restorative justice recognizes the need to keep the community safe through strategies that build relationships and empower the community to take responsibility for the well-being of its members.
- Competency Development — Restorative justice seeks to increase the pro-social skills of those who have harmed others, address underlying factors that lead youth to engage in delinquent behavior, and build on strengths in each young person.
Modern restorative justice is rooted in the juvenile justice system and has since spread into the areas of school bullying prevention and discipline reform. In 1998, Illinois’ Juvenile Justice Reform Act revised the Illinois Juvenile Court Act to include the following purpose and policy statement, which adopts, in pertinent part, the restorative justice philosophy for all juvenile delinquency cases:
“(1) It is the intent of the General Assembly to promote a juvenile justice system capable of dealing with the problem of juvenile delinquency, a system that will protect the community, impose accountability for violations of law and equip juvenile offenders with competencies to live responsibly and productively.”
In 2011, the Illinois School Bullying Prevention Task Force released a report stating that “restorative discipline should wholly replace punitive discipline measures … discipline should include comprehensive efforts to help students learn alternative ways to handle conflict and relational aggression and the ability to practice those behaviors until fluency is gained.”
In 2014, the “Bullying prevention” section of the Illinois School Code (105 ILCS 5/27-23.7; Public Act 98-669) was amended to define “restorative measures” and to require that school district bullying prevention policies include procedures for promptly informing parents/guardians of all students involved in alleged bullying incidents of the availability of student support services, which may include restorative measures.
Now, per Public Act 99-0456 (commonly known as Senate Bill 100), as of September 15, 2016 the Illinois School Code requires that schools exhaust all other appropriate and available behavioral and disciplinary interventions before a student may be considered for suspension of longer than three days, expulsion, or disciplinary removal to an alternative school. Restorative justice measures are one of myriad interventions available to schools.
What are restorative justice measures?
The U.S. Department of Education describes restorative justice measures as “a set of informal and formal strategies intended to build relationships and a sense of community to prevent conflict and wrongdoing, and respond to wrongdoings, with the intention to repair any harm that was a result of the wrongdoing.”
The Illinois School Code defines “Restorative Measures” as a continuum of school-based alternatives to exclusionary discipline that
- Are adapted to the particular needs of the school and community;
- Contribute to maintaining school safety;
- Protect the integrity of a positive and productive learning climate;
- Teach students the personal and interpersonal skills they will need to be successful in school and society;
- Serve to build and restore relationships among students, families, schools, and communities; and
- Reduce the likelihood of future disruption by balancing accountability with an understanding of students’ behavioral health needs in order to keep students in school.
Restorative justice responses vary from state to state and district to district, but often include educational and/or behavioral consequences, and bring affected parties together to resolve conflict through tools such as peacemaking circles, mediation, conferencing, and peer juries. For example, California’s Oakland Unified School District describes its restorative justice as “processes” which build community and respond to harm, and breaks restorative justice into three tiers. Across the bay, San Francisco Unified School District depicts restorative practices along a continuum and describes them as “multifaceted in nature,” which “include interventions when harm has happened, as well as practices that help prevent harm and conflict by helping to build a sense of belonging, safety, and social responsibility in the school community.”
Closer to home, Minneapolis Public Schools visually portrays its restorative practices as a “Circle of Supports” involving interventions which range from prevention measures aimed at broad populations to intensive interventions focused on individual students’ needs.
Currently 22 states, including Illinois, have enacted statutes encouraging or requiring the use of restorative justice in school discipline.
Implementing Restorative Justice: A Guide for Schools , Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority (2009), www.icjia.state.il.us/publications/implementing-restorative-justice-a-guide-for-schools
School Bullying Task Force Report, Illinois State Board of Education (March 1, 2011) at: www.isbe.net/SBPTF/pdf/sbptf_report_030111.pdf
U.S. Department of Education on restorative justice, blog.ed.gov/2016/03/restorative-justice-practices-and-bullying-prevention/
Oakland Unified School District , Whole School Restorative Justice information sheet, www.ousd.org/restorativejustice
San Francisco Unified School District , Continuum of Restorative Practices,www.healthiersf.org/RestorativePractices/WhatIsRP/continuum.php
Minneapolis Public Schools, Circle of Supports, http://ecs.mpls.k12.mn.us/restorative_practices_in_schools