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NJSBF offers educators an alternative to punitive school discipline through restorative justice

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 28, 2022
Contact: Thomas Nobile
Director of Communications
Tel: 732-937-7527
[email protected]
  
NEW BRUNSWICK – In an era where violence, bullying and bias in the classroom dominate the news cycle, the New Jersey State Bar Foundation is training educators on an alternative, non-punitive tool for building community and resolving conflict inside schools.
  
It’s called restorative justice, a philosophy that favors communication and relationships over punishment and suspension. While many school districts take a more punitive approach to discipline that isolates, punishes and separates students accused of wrongdoing, the restorative model instead builds an environment of inclusion, shared responsibility and accountability, often with better results.
  
“The restorative fundamentals really focus on our interconnectedness and our accountability in a community. When someone feels connected to a community, they’re more invested,” said Carly McCollow, a consultant on restorative practices and one of the program’s presenters. “The premise is that if you feel cared about, you’re less likely to cause trouble.”
  
Since October, the NJSBF has offered free training sessions for New Jersey educators to learn the basics of restorative justice and bring the concepts back to their school districts. To date, nearly 100 educators have attended the Foundation’s program either virtually or in person.
“Restorative justice is a mindset, a way of being, and a set of practices. It gives schools a framework for honoring everyone’s contribution to their community and for promoting accountability and healing when harm is done. When one of us is not well, none of us are well,” said Jessica Taube, the Foundation’s director of conflict resolution and anti-bias initiatives.
  
The restorative fundamentals focus on interconnectedness and accountability in a community, and addressing harm so that all involved are heard, supported and held accountable. The impact is that students and families feel more trusting of schools, school culture and climate improves, and incidents of violence, bullying and bias decrease, according to McCollow.
  
Consider that in a more punitive school system, a student who gets in a minor altercation in the cafeteria could face a suspension that forces them to miss class, or an arrest that carries a criminal record. In a restorative environment, student peer mediators and support staff might intervene to deescalate the situation. The same student might instead clean the cafeteria during a free period and meet with a counselor after school. The outcome would be decided by all parties involved; there is no one-size-fits-all solution in restorative justice.
  
“Schools are conflict factories. When someone does something bad, the restorative environment believes that that is a human being with a right to have their voice heard,” McCollow said. “Just because it’s not the traditionally punitive model, does not mean it’s permissive or there’s no accountability.”
  
Studies show that punitive discipline can do more harm than good for a child’s education, according to the NJSBF’s presentation. Suspensions and expulsions are costly for school districts and often fail to deter disruptive behavior. Students who are suspended tend to struggle academically, are prone to drop out of school and are more likely to become involved in the criminal legal system.
  
The term “restorative justice” derives from programs in the criminal justice system that allow offenders to take responsibility for their actions, understand the harm they have caused and give them an opportunity to redeem themselves. The philosophy, which has seen worldwide growth since the 1990s, was founded on an alternative theory to the traditional methods of justice, which often focus on retribution and incarceration.
  
While its use in schools and the legal system is relatively new, the practice traces its roots to indigenous cultures around the world that addressed conflict resolution through talking circles, according to McCollow. In modern times, restorative justice principles were used by the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission to help end apartheid, in negotiations with the Canadian government and the First Nations people, and between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.  
  
In New Jersey, the approach is slowly catching on. At least 15 school districts in the state are in a pilot program with Kean University that trains and supports staff to implement restorative justice, according to Taube. The state Board of Education and Attorney General’s Division on Civil Rights are planning to release a set of recommendations for school districts in 2023 that include restorative justice as a recommended practice to reduce discrimination in school discipline based on race, national origin, gender and disability.
  
The Foundation has workshops scheduled throughout the winter. To learn more, visit njsbf.org.

Contact: NJSBA Communications Department
Tel: 732-937-7527
Email: [email protected]

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