Restorative Student Development: Advance a school district policy of restorative intervention practices to address student discipline issues
All schools have discipline policies governing student behavior so that learning in the classroom can take place effectively and efficiently, and all students benefit from a positive/peaceful learning environment. But how schools and communities address issues of discipline may have long-term impact on students’ futures and our society as a whole.
Discipline policies based on Restorative Practices have been shown to have beneficial outcomes for both student and schools alike. “Restorative practices provide a structure that builds community among students and staff and provides a way for students to restore themselves to the community following misconduct.” (Anthony Hamlet, Superintendent of Schools, Pittsburgh)
Restorative Practices in student discipline have been demonstrated to work. For example, West Philadelphia High School was on the state’s “Persistently Dangerous Schools” list for six years. After one year of implementing restorative justice practices, the school climate improved dramatically: suspensions dropped 50% and violent acts and serious incidents declined 52% in 2007–2008, and another 40% by the end of the first semester in 2008.
Historically there has been much reliance on suspension as a solution to addressing behavior and other student problems in school. However, it has been demonstrated that suspensions are costly for the whole community in many different ways. Students who get suspended are more likely to drop out or end up in the school-to-prison pipeline, which prevents them from reaching their potential and succeeding as members of our community. And studies have shown that students of color are much more likely to be suspended, making this a serious problem which contributes to racial inequity. Suspensions also cost a huge amount of money: many schools get funding based on daily enrollment, so having students absent from school deprives those schools of thousands of dollars. One study concluded that the school-to-prison pipeline actually costs our country more than $35 billion dollars in lost tax revenues and in added costs of healthcare and criminal justice.
In contrast, relying on Restorative Practices, as opposed to punitive measures like suspension in dealing with discipline problems in schools, can produce more positive social and educational results. An investment in incorporating Restorative Practices may also have financial benefits in the long run. And some funding opportunities for schools considering making such an investment may be found in the federal American Rescue Plan (Title 11: Sub-title A: Section: 2001- N) and other sources.
There are various practices that may be implemented under the heading of restorative justice programs such as student-run peer courts, group sessions, parent circles, and mediation practices. However, implementation of such policies can also be made by training school personnel in restorative practices and instructing school personnel to utilize such practices as an alternative to punitive discipline in all cases. Additionally, research has shown that training everyone in a whole school, including leadership, teachers, custodians, bus drivers, nurses, security officers, and the entirety of a school’s staff, is much more effective than training just a few team members. Such universal training gives everyone the basic skills to create community and address discipline problems in a restorative way. When teachers and staff lay the groundwork of community, discipline problems decline and allow teachers to focus their time on teaching.
Restorative Practices can also be advanced to support racial equity and inclusiveness in schools across the country so that all students can have equal opportunities to succeed.
Below are sample resolutions from the Philadelphia school system authorizing the International Institute for Restorative Practices to provide restorative practices training for staff in the Penn Treaty Middle School and George Washington High School. Both schools are predominantly minority and/or low-income. (Note: There are numerous other sources providing such training, including the National Education Association; Restorative Practice NYC; and The Restorative Center in New York State.)
- School District of Philadelphia School Reform Commission, January 21, 2016 – B-8: Categorical/Grant Fund: $97,805 Contract with International Institute for Restorative Practices – George Washington High School
RESOLVED, that the School Reform Commission authorizes the School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent or his designee, to execute, deliver and perform a contract with International Institute for Restorative Practices to provide training for George Washington High School staff and professional development to staff in the area of restorative practices for an amount not to exceed $97,805.00 for the period commencing February 2, 2016 through June 30, 2017.
Description: Whole-School Change is a program of the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP), a graduate school based in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Since 1999 the IIRP Continuing Education Division has helped even the most challenging schools improve their teaching and learning environment through “restorative practices,” a proactive approach to whole school climate change based on communication and responsibility. The IIRP’s SaferSanerSchools™ Whole-School Change program is a cost-effective way to achieve lasting change that enhances and builds relationships between students, staff and parents, improves student behavior, reduces violence and bullying and creates a sense of community. IIRP provides a comprehensive two-year school implementation program, unlike piecemeal efforts using varied approaches that lack an explicit focus. IIRP helps the school leadership and staff develop a customized plan based on its own needs and goals, organizes staff “professional learning groups” and regular follow-up phone meetings, delivers onsite professional development and assists with evaluation. Everyone on the school staff has a say and a role in implementation. Several staff are selected and trained as professional development instructors to ensure program sustainability. Whole-School was chosen because they have developed the full school program that districts across the country are using to implement restorative practices.
They have worked with many District schools, most recently the following: Harding MS, Roxborough HS, HSOF, MLK HS, South Philadelphia HS, Morris Elem, K-CAPA HS, Overbrook HS. This was part of a grant from the Philadelphia Foundation.
- School Reform Public Commission Resolutions proposed, September 17, 2015: B-8 Categorical/Grant Fund: $23,380 Contract with International Institute for Restorative Practices – Penn Treaty Middle School
RESOLVED, that the School Reform Commission authorizes the School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent or his designee, to execute, deliver and perform a contract with International Institute for Restorative Practices to provide training for Penn Treaty staff and professional development to staff in the area of restorative practices for an amount not to exceed $23,380 for the period commencing September 18, 2015 through June 30, 2016. They have worked with many schools, most recently the following: Harding, Roxborough, HSOF, King, South Philadelphia, Morris, K-CAPA, Overbrook.