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Using Restorative Justice to Rethink School Discipline


Posted October 1, 2019
4:16 pm


In recent years, schools around the country have been re-thinking their approaches to discipline.  From New York to California to Cleveland, Ohio, school administrators are implementing “restorative justice” to create alternatives to suspension and expulsion.

Restorative justice looks beyond bad acts and punishment. It focuses on understanding why students break rules, and how breaking rules hurts others, so that students own their actions.

A related concept called “social emotional learning” (SEL) is often practiced alongside restorative justice. Social emotional learning teaches kids and adults to control their emotions, foster healthy relationships, and act responsibly.

The Oakland Unified School District in California uses restorative justice ideas to create positive learning environments that encourage SEL. The Oakland model has 3-steps. First, students and teachers work to understand each other and create an environment with shared values. Second, when bad behavior happens, students, victims, teachers, and others try to understand why it happened and how it hurt the victim. Third, students who are temporarily removed from school are welcomed back after the removal period ends.

Here in Cleveland, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) recently held a conference about restorative justice and social emotional learning. CMSD uses an SEL program called “Humanware.” Every CMSD school has a Humanware partner who acts as a coach to educators on integrating SEL core competencoes into their everyday teaching activities. CMSD also uses “planning centers” where students can go to work out their feelings (students may go voluntarily or be referred to the center by a teacher). Some classrooms use meetings to check in on students and help students understand each other better. Currently, CMSD is exploring more restorative justice ideas.

If you want to learn more about restorative justice or want your child’s school to try restorative justice ideas, you can:

This article was written by Bridget Sciscento and appeared in The Alert: Volume 35, Issue 2.