Socializing Schools: Addressing Racial Disparities in Discipline Through Restorative Justice
Thalia González, Socializing Schools: Addressing Racial Disparities in Discipline Through Restorative Justice, in CLOSING THE SCHOOL DISCIPLINE GAP: EQUITABLE REMEDIES FOR EXCESSIVE EXCLUSION (Daniel J. Losen ed., 2014).
22 Pages Posted: 8 Feb 2016
Date Written: January 24, 2015
Restorative justice as an approach to improving the school learning environment and student behavior is based on three core principles: repairing harm, involving stakeholders, and transforming community relationships. Since the first documented use of restorative justice in schools, its advocates have promoted it as an alternative to zero-tolerance and punitive exclusionary discipline. As interviews with administrators, teachers, parents, students, and school resource officers in the Denver Public Schools have revealed, the impact of restorative practices is not simply an academic idea but a practice for transforming the community. In recent years, diverse models of restorative justice have been implemented in schools across the United States to address increasing concerns about the significant negative impact of exclusionary discipline, particularly for African American and Latino students. Research showing that punitive discipline and zero-tolerance policies have resulted in a significant increase in suspensions and expulsions for all students has also documented the alarmingly disproportionate rates at which African American and Latino students experience discipline. Such experiences have far- reaching negative implications, from academic underperformance to increased risk of antisocial behavior and entry into the school-to-prison pipeline.
International studies of restorative justice practices in schools provide significant evidence of its positive outcomes for students, teachers, parents, and community members. No similar study has been conducted in the United States, until now. This longitudinal study on the impact of restorative justice in Denver Public Schools (DPS) is the first conducted in an urban school district in the United States. This multiyear examination of the implementation of school-based restorative justice practices across several school sites is based on an unusually rich combination of empirical and qualitative data allowing for comprehensive analysis. The findings presented in this chapter are based on a case study analysis of DPS conducted from 2008 to 2013, and on data collected by DPS from 2006 to 2013. Data are drawn from observations, open-ended interviews, and secondary analyses of empirical discipline data from DPS at both the district and school levels. The findings provide educational policymakers with five key considerations. First, the systemic implementation of restorative justice at the school and district levels, coupled with the reform of discipline policies, can play a key role in addressing disproportionality in discipline outcomes. Second, the positive impact of restorative practices not only addresses disproportionate discipline but also can be correlated with increased academic achievement. Third, the implementation of restorative practices should be aligned with clear short-, medium-, and long-term goals, beginning with a small pilot phase and transitioning to widespread adoption. Fourth, the implementation of restorative practices will be different in every district, as it is not simply about adding another program to a teacher’s classroom or disciplinarian’s protocols but about institutionalizing practices that facilitate microinstitutional changes that are responsive to the needs of individuals and communities. Fifth, the most effective approach to implementing restorative practices is a comprehensive continuum model that can have transformative effects within an individual school community and also be part of districtwide implementation.
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