A social justice center at UC Berkeley’s law school published a case study today that highlights the successes, challenges and potential of restorative justice in schools, based on observations at the (now closed) Cole Middle School in West Oakland.
Restorative Justice is a set of principles designed to build community, prevent violence, correct behavior, and to repair harm, as well as frayed relationships. It’s an alternative to the traditional school discipline model, and the centers believe it could be a way to reduce the disproportionately high suspension rates of black and Latino students. You can find a lengthy description and online resources here, on the district’s website.
This is not a data-heavy report, but it does give a promising stat: The suspension rate at Cole dropped by 87 percent and expulsions went to zero after the program was implemented. Check out the graphs on page 31, if you have a chance.
It was an interesting read, especially if you make it beyond the executive summary. It’s clear that the author(s) spent lots of time at the school, observing and talking to people. (I think I met a law student working on this project — Atteeyah Hollie, maybe? — at a Cole event in 2008, after a gun went off in a classroom.)
Here’s a section on negative assumptions that some had, going in:
Some adults mentioned negative assumptions about West Oakland residents. As a result, they did not believe restorative justice would be successful. One preconception was that some students were too hardened to benefit from what was perceived as a non-punitive intervention. For these adults, only punitive measures were appropriate for discipline cases, since they believed the adolescents were not capable of transformation. Similarly, some felt that the wider culture of West Oakland valued strength and that the openness required by restorative justice could be seen as weakness. Others thought restorative justice violated the code against snitching. …
A second preconception was that students simply acted without reflection, or that they were incapable of deep feeling or empathy. This assumption resulted in the further belief that the circles asked things of the students that were beyond their capabilities. In fact, multiple instances belied these assumptions, as the students demonstrated a variety of emotions and showed sensitivity to the people and the events that took place around them. Some students reflectively evaluated the potential consequences of their and others’ actions and appropriately moderated behavior because of this awareness. Even some who held this preconception thought restorative justice created a new culture that valued openness at the school.
The Oakland school board passed a restorative justice resolution last December. Have any of these initiatives come to your school?