Restorative Justice and Challenge Success
By LCHS Assistant Principal, Kip Glazer
As the Assistant Principal in charge of discipline at La Cañada High School, it is not uncommon for me to see a frightened student in my office. Often times I ask my secretary to call the students to tell them that they are to see her instead of me to avoid upsetting any of them. Recently, I had a student state, “I am scared that this is going to ruin my future,” after being brought to my office for an infraction. This snapshot represents one of the many reasons why I chose the topic of discipline and its impact on Challenge Success. As we discuss important concepts in relation to Challenge Success, such as grit, I feel that it is important for all of us to consider how we apply discipline when our young people make mistakes.
When I interviewed for the Assistant Principal position, I was asked about my philosophy of discipline. I said I believed in correcting and redirecting student behaviors. I also discussed how much I believed in the concept of Progressive Discipline and Restorative Justice. I first became aware of Restorative Justice when I was the technology coach at my previous district. Although my job seemingly did not have anything to do with discipline, I was asked to provide technical assistance to the presenters who were training teachers and administrators on social-emotional learning. During the workshop, I learned how a student’s sense of well-being impacted his or her long-term academic success. When I became the Dean of Students a year later, I received a mandatory training on Restorative Justice and trauma-informed care. Once again, I was reminded of the connection between a student’s emotional well-being and his/her overall success in life. Although I was a designated disciplinarian, I collaborated with a school social worker, an intervention specialist, and a community specialist. We worked as team to help students learn from their mistakes. With the help from many, I learned to implement Restorative Justice in a school setting.
What is Restorative Justice?
According to the Center for Justice and Reconciliation, Restorative Justice focuses on three core principles: (1) repair, (2) encounter, and (3) transform (“What is restorative justice?”, 2017; Pavelka, 2013). In other words, Restorative Justice requires people to repair the harm they caused by interacting directly with the people who they harmed to create meaningful changes in their current and future relationships. Although it seems new to some of us, Restorative Justice has been practiced throughout human history (Braithwaite, 2000). Morrison (2001) argued that school was one of the best places to implement such practices, since a school is an institution dedicated to educating young people to become self-sufficient adults. Morrison further argued that Restorative Justice was not just a practice but a systemic way to build social capital among all students (Morrison, 2002).
Challenges for implementation of Restorative Justice
However, it is not easy for schools to fully implement Restorative Justice. Payne and Welch (2013) argued that the major shift in school culture was necessary for the successful implementation of restorative justice. In order for schools to truly take advantage of the benefits from Restorative Justice, the school community at large needed to view discipline as an opportunity to empower students to make fundamental changes in their decision making process by examining the impact of their behaviors in the community (Morrison et. al., 2005).
Wachtel (2001) delineated the challenges in bringing Restorative Justice into a school community. First, many adults believe in punitive punishment known as zero tolerance as a deterrent to future infractions, despite a lack of evidence (Gonzalez, 2012; Wilson, 2014). In fact, such a practice has been shown to create a climate of mistrust in the school community rather than make schools safer (Skiba, 2014). Second, many adults view the practice of Restorative Justice as allowing the offenders to avoid accountability (Schiff, 2013; Wachtel, 2001), even though that could not be further from the truth. When students receive traditional consequences, such as suspension or expulsion, many often focus on avoiding punishment and even consider themselves to be the victim for being caught (Wachtel, 2001). Rather than allowing the offenders to rationalize their misbehaviors, Restorative Justice offers a variety of ways for the wrongdoers to take full responsibility for their actions (Pavelka, 2013). By allowing students to participate in peer mediation, on a peer-accountability board, or in a restorative circle where they have to confront and soothe whomever they harmed, the offender can learn the true impact of their behaviors and make amends (Fronius et. al., 2015).
Does that mean our students who break the California Education Code will not face any consequence at school? Does that mean the school will never suspend students? Of course not! If a student violates any part of the Education Code, the school has to take action for the safety of that student as well as the rest of the student body. If a student was not able to learn because he or she was under the influence of a controlled substance, suspension may likely be necessary. What Restorative Justice allows the school to do, however, is to rally the resources to support students so that they are able to learn from their mistakes in a productive manner after suspension. It is a systemic way for a school to hold the students accountable beyond just staying home for a few days. It is requiring them to attend anger management classes after a fight. It is helping them to face and apologize to people they hurt by participating in a conflict mediation meeting. It is propelling a student to attend brief intervention session for drugs and alcohol in order to face potential addiction issues. It is allowing students to participate in a restorative circle to problem solve after violating school rules.
Future of Restorative Justice at La Cañada High School
I am passionate about bringing Restorative Justice to La Cañada High School not only as an administrator but also as a mother of two boys who are now twenty-one and eighteen. I can’t help but see my own children in the young people I interact with on a daily basis. I see their struggles to make decisions for themselves and sometimes failing to make good ones. More than once, I have consoled students who are upset and parents who are equally frightened by receiving a phone call from my office. I tell the parents that people, especially students, make mistakes, and there should definitely be consequences. I tell them It is my job to give consequences to students who break school rules. But that doesn’t mean I think negatively about them as people. Yes, sometimes a student must be suspended. But when they return from suspension, they need to have opportunities to make amends to repair the damages that they have caused.
As we redefine success through Challenge Success, I am hopeful that my new home, LCUSD, will embrace Restorative Justice as a way to discipline and support our young people. I cannot wait to collaborate with everyone to bring the practice of Restorative Justice to this community which has welcomed me so warmly.
Braithwaite, J. (2000). Restorative justice. In M. Tonry (Ed.) The handbook of crime and punishment (pp. 323-344). New York, NY: Oxford University Press
Fronius, T., Persson, H., Guckenburg, S., Hurley, N., & Petrosino, A. (2016). Restorative justice in US schools: A research review. San Francisco, CA: WestEd Justice and Prevention Training Center.
Gonzalez, T. (2012). Keeping kids in schools: Restorative justice, punitive discipline, and the school to prison pipeline. JL & Educ., 41, 281.
Morrison, B.E. (2001). Developing the schools capacity in the regulation of civil society. In H. Strang, & J. Braithwaite (eds.), Restorative Justice and Civil Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Morrison, B.E. (2002). Bullying and Victimisation in Schools: A Restorative Justice Approach. Trends and Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice, # 219 (February). Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology.
Morrison, B., Blood, P., & Thorsborne, M. (2005). Practicing restorative justice in school communities: The challenge of culture change. Public Organization Review: A Global Journal, 5, 335-357
Pavelka, S. (2013). Practices and policies for implementing restorative justice within schools. The prevention researcher, 20(1), 15-18.
Payne, A. A., & Welch, K. (2015). Restorative justice in schools: The influence of race on restorative discipline. Youth & Society, 47(4), 539-564.
Schiff, M. (2013, January). Dignity, disparity and desistance: Effective restorative justice strategies to plug the “school-to-prison pipeline.”. In Center for Civil Rights Remedies National Conference. Closing the School to Research Gap: Research to Remedies Conference. Washington, DC.
Skiba, R. J. (2014). The failure of zero tolerance. Reclaiming children and youth, 22(4), 27.
Wachtel, T. (2001). Safer saner Schools: Restoring community in a disconnected world. Retrieved from http://www.safersanerschools.org/Pages/restorativepractices.html
What is restorative justice? (2017) retreived from http://restorativejustice.org/restorative-justice/about-restorative-justice/tutorial-intro-to-restorative-justice/lesson-1-what-is-restorative-justice/#sthash.TBmr4L2A.dpbs
Wilson, H. (2014). Turning off the school-to-prison pipeline. Reclaiming Children and Youth, 23(1), 49.