Restorative Justice and Meaningful Student Involvement

Olympia 2014
Students participate in a conversation about restorative justice led by SoundOut in Olympia, Washington.

Restorative justice is a student-led approach to resolving conflict in schools. It holds Meaningful Student Involvement at the center, with students as planners, facilitators and evaluators throughout the entirety of the process.

What It Is

Where many previous conflict resolution programs in schools were adult-led and student-driven, restorative justice programs elevate student voice by increasing student agency through positioning learners as strategic owners of the entire process. Students can call for restorative justice, plan its implementation, facilitate the process and submit their feedback afterwards. This is especially important to students of color, of whom US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said, ”…minority students across America face much harsher discipline than non-minorities — even within the same school…some of the worst discrepancies are in my home town of Chicago.” Many people believe historic ways of behavior management in schools are directly responsible for several realities for students of color and low-income students, including the achievement gap and zero tolerance policies, both of which encourage students to drop out or face being pushed out of school.

What It Does

Restorative justice moves students to engage with each other in powerful, responsive ways. The philosophy and practices of restorative justice bring students who misbehave into structured, safe and supportive conversations with students who are affected by their misbehavior. This teaches accountability and interdependence while repairing the harm that was caused. It also prevents future behavior of a similar fashion, as students become more responsible for their actions and responsive to the climate of the learning environment. Significant research supports all of this.

Community organizations, individual schools and districts across the United States are adopting this practice more frequently, including Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE) and Oakland Public Schools.

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