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Hundreds of US school districts using ‘restorative justice,’ parent group finds

Hundreds of US school districts using ‘restorative justice,’ parent group finds

CITC EXCLUSIVE: Public school districts in at least 48 states are using “restorative justice” practices in student discipline, according to an analysis conducted by a parents’ rights group.

The list, compiled by Parents Defending Education (PDE) and shared exclusively with Crisis in the Classroom (CITC), includes more than 200 school districts. It seeks to determine any connection between use of restorative practices and “the unprecedented behavioral chaos being seen in schools,” with PDE claiming such practices have “replaced exclusionary discipline” in many districts.

Restorative justice practices often focus on mediation over punishment. Schools which use related approaches typically urge students to resolve conflicts in groups and discourage frequent uses of suspension or expulsion.

The school districts included in PDE’s list have taken a variety of approaches to implementing restorative justice. Portland Public Schools (PPS), the largest district in Maine, notes in its “Bullying and Cyberbullying in Schools” policy that a district official responding to any relevant incident may use alternative disciplinary approaches, which can include “restorative conferencing.” PPS also notes in the Support Services section of its website that a “restorative justice mediator” can be utilized to help students resolve conflicts.

In Maryland, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) requires staff to “initiate a continuum” which “reflects a restorative discipline philosophy” consistent with other school board guidance. It also instructs each of its schools to “”strive to create a culture” which promotes, among other things, restorative practices.

MCPS Communications Director Christopher Cram told CITC the district has found restorative practices to be “a good way to change behaviors for the positive,” as well as to reduce repeat offenses.

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Other school districts have refrained from enacting formal polices pertaining to restorative justice. District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), noting its “significant disparities in opportunities and outcomes,” says on its website it codified “co-regulatory and restorative practices” as one of its five core district practices. The five practices are used by DCPS to “build positive school culture.”

“So, it’s not in any official policy, but they’re just doing it,” Rhyen Staley, a researcher for PDE, told CITC of DCPS. “And I’ve seen that sort of pattern a lot with districts … it takes away from the community’s and the parents’ opportunity to say what’s going on or even just to know.”

While Staley acknowledges restorative justice practices may provide some benefits, he raises concerns over a blanket method being implemented nationwide.

“To be honest, restorative practices might not be an overt negative in small districts,” Staley told CITC. “But when you’re talking urban districts with 30, 40, 50,000 students … this is not making it better.”

Read the complete article here.

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