Don’t Suspend Kids – Use Restorative Justice Instead

Photo by E. Wagele

Photo by E. Wagele

An article in the San Francisco Chronicle by Spencer Whitney (Restorative justice: turning lives around) 7-10-16, talks about Berkeley Tech Academy Principal Sheila Quintana, who established a restorative justice system at the school. This method of dealing with problems is much more positive than shutting stu­dents out of school, which can send them into a cy­cle of falling be­hind in class, drop­ping out with few em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties, and el­e­vat­ing the risk of a life of crime and in­car­cer­a­tion.

“In restora­tive jus­tice, per­pe­tra­tors of mi­nor to mod­er­ate of­fenses are brought into an in­ten­sive pro­gram in which they are led to con­front the un­der­ly­ing causes and con­se­quences of their ac­tions. They meet with their vic­tims in ses­sions known as ‘the cir­cle’ as part of the process of tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for their ac­tions and re­pair­ing the harm they caused. Restora­tive jus­tice was al­ready used in Berke­ley schools, but three Septem­ber sus­pen­sions prompted Quin­tana to in­ten­sify the academy’s pro­gram, iden­ti­fy­ing con­flicts be­fore they turn vi­o­lent. In one incident of name-call­ing and cy­ber-bul­ly­ing on so­cial me­dia, the three young women in­volved were brought in for a 90minute ses­sion at a teacher’s re­quest. The ha­rass­ment stopped.”

Quin­tana said the restora­tive jus­tice prac­tices at her school al­low stu­dents to have dig­nity and op­tions when it came to be­hav­iors that don’t serve them. “It has had an im­pact on our sta­tis­tics … our goal is to make sure the stu­dents are in school for in­struc­tion.”

Berke­ley Tech has had just one sus­pen­sion and no ex­pul­sions since Septem­ber. The Oakland Uni­fied School District’s $2.3 mil­lion “Restora­tive Jus­tice Ini­tia­tive” has been cred­ited with help­ing re­duce the sus­pen­sions of African Amer­i­can stu­dents by 40 per­cent in its first year. These pro­grams can keep young peo­ple on track be­fore they be­come mired in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem. California is mak­ing a long over­due ef­fort to re­duce its prison pop­u­la­tion.

Stud­ies have shown that African Amer­i­cans, especially, are more likely to be sus­pended from school — which helps ex­plain their dis­pro­por­tion­ate rep­re­sen­ta­tion in pris­ons. “And the racial pro­fil­ing be­gins early. A 2014 U.S. Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion study found that African Amer­i­cans ac­counted for 18 per­cent of preschool­ers in the U.S., but 42 per­cent of all sus­pen­sions.

“The re­sults in the pi­o­neer­ing Bay Area schools have led state Senator Loni Han­cock, D-Berke­ley, to pro­pose SB463, a mea­sure to en­cour­age lo­cal dis­tricts to train school per­son­nel in restora­tive jus­tice prac­tices to break cy­cles of vi­o­lence.”

  • Elizabeth Wagele’s book, The Enneagram for Teens, helps teens from another direction—by building character from the inside out. Teens are encouraged to develop their own values, to think about who they are, what they like, and what kind of a life they want to lead.


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