A practice that has set New School High apart from other schools is our commitment to Restorative Justice. Due to the strength of the research on its effectiveness over traditional punishment, we adopted this method of addressing negative student behaviors when we opened in 2015. Concerned that overly punitive traditional discipline results in excessive suspensions and too many students out of school, the State of Michigan is now requiring that all public schools adopt restorative practices.
What is Restorative Justice? This approach requires the student to take responsibility for their actions, identify the damages that their actions caused, identify the people their actions have harmed, and find a way to repair that damage and harm. The goal is to restore the situation to the way things were before the harmful actions.
While it may be much easier to simply assign a specific, uniform consequence to a harmful action, traditional methods of discipline do not address the specifics of a situation or account for individual differences. Instead, restorative practice requires the adults responsible for student discipline to first gather the facts: What is the age of the perpetrator? Does the student have a history of misbehavior? How serious was the infraction? Was the well-being and safety of others jeopardized? Does the student have a disability that has bearing on the negative behavior? After taking the answers into consideration, the next step is to develop and implement a plan that will result in restoring the harm that occurred. At New School High, this is done in a meeting of the entire staff. We have found that restorative practices provide an opportunity to teach, which is the mission of every school: the perpetrators may come to better understand empathy and responsibility, those harmed will have their hurt acknowledged, the larger community will be strengthened.
If negative behaviors are repeated and change does not occur, a behavior contract may be needed. This document will identify the specific actions that will not be tolerated. The contract is signed by the student, parent, and school leader. In most cases, violations result in out-of-school or in-school suspensions. While we do not want to take away learning time for the perpetrator, removal from class is necessary if the learning of others will be disrupted by their presence.
For more information about Restorative Justice, please contact our staff or go to: https://www.edutopia.org/blog/restorative-justice-tips-for-schools-fania-davis
As always, we welcome your ideas, insights, and questions on Restorative Justice or any other topic relating to learning at New School High.