‘Restorative justice’ vs. suspension

Instead of suspending misbehaving students, schools are trying “restorative justice” programs, reports the New York Times. At Oakland’s Ralph Bunche High School, an alternative school for students who’ve been in trouble,  coordinator Eric Butler tries to teach students to defuse conflict, “come up with meaningful reparations for their wrongdoing” and develop empathy with others.

Even before her father’s arrest on a charge of shooting at a car, Mercedes was prone to anger. “When I get angry, I blank out,” she said. She listed some reasons on a white board — the names of friends and classmates who lost their lives to Oakland’s escalating violence. Among them was Kiante Campbell, a senior shot and killed during a downtown arts festival in February. His photocopied image was plastered around Mr. Butler’s room, along with white roses left from a restorative “grief circle.”

. . . “A lot of these young people don’t have adults to cry to,” said Be-Naiah Williams, an after-school coordinator at Bunche whose 21-year-old brother was gunned down two years ago in a nightclub. “So whatever emotion they feel, they go do.”

The U.S. Department of Education’s civil rights office is investigating Oakland’s high suspension and expulsion rates. African-American boys make up 17 percent of the district’s enrollment but 42 percent of all suspensions. (It would be more useful to look at their percentage of male enrollment vs. male suspensions.) Many disciplinary actions were for “defiance,” such as cursing at a teacher, rather than violence, notes the Times.

Even advocates of restorative justice admit it doesn’t work for all students. Programs vary across the country. Some schools are reducing suspensions by putting students on “administrative leave,” reports the Times. ”
Restorative justice can mean formal mediation and reparation or more spontaneous discussions.

A recent circle at Bunche for Jeffrey, who was on the verge of expulsion for habitual vandalism, included an Oakland police officer, and the conversation turned to the probability that Jeffrey would wind up incarcerated or on the streets. The student had told Mr. Butler that he was being pressured to join a gang.

“Cat, you got five people right now invested in your well-being,” Mr. Butler told him. “This is a matter of life or death.” Jeffrey agreed to go to Mr. Butler’s classroom every day at third period to do his schoolwork.

Butler’s sister was murdered by her boyfriend, he told Bunche students. When the boyfriend’s mother knocked on his door to ask forgiveness, “The want for revenge in my stomach lifted.”

Sending disruptive, defiant and violent students to an alternative school that focuses on teaching them to get along with others and build self-control sounds like a good idea to me. I’m sure it helps their former teachers and classmates. I hope it helps them.

In New York City, schools are sending students to the emergency room for behavioral outbursts, charges public advocate Bill de Blasio, who’s suing the city for data on 911 calls.

About Joanne


  1. Richard Aubrey says:

    Sounds like a terrific idea. Everybody will want to get on the bandwagon. Problem is, just starting a program and having an administrator for it doesn’t mean resources will be available.
    And if being restorative instead of punitive is seen as good, being even nicer to the disruptive and assaultive will be seen as even better.
    Be a tough environment for a good kid.

  2. Why the scare quotes around the word defiance? if cussing out the teacher is not defiance, and behavior that should be punished, it is simply time to give up and close the schools.

  3. D's Squirrel Food says:

    Removal of dangerous and disruptive students is necessary in order to have a functional classroom, and suspensions are sometimes appropriate. But the suspension is for the benefit of the other students, or sometimes the staff, not for the suspended student. Kids who miss substantial class time learn less, which puts them in a poor position to learn when they are in class. So they act out and manage to get themselves suspended again. These kids are rarely likely to go to college, and they’re not suited for traditional schools. Alternative schools with different discipline procedures make a lot of sense.

    • What different discipline procedures?

      The only thing that reaches many of these kids is pain, and corporal punishment is not coming back.

      The essential problem is that we have removed negative consequences for poor behavior and poor decision making.

      • D's Squirrel Food says:

        Other discipline procedures like those described in the article. I do not believe the preponderance of studies supports beating the sense into children.

        • Because of course behavior has improved since we removed corporal punishment from the schools.

          Every animal that raises its young uses pain as a negative reinforcer.

          Damn Dr. Spock to the lowest reaches of hell.

        • Because, of course, behavior has improved since we removed corporal punishment from the schools.

          Every animal that raises its young uses pain as a negative reinforcer.

          Damn Dr. Spock to the lowest reaches of hell.

    • Richard Aubrey says:

      Hey. I have an idea.
      Everybody act like Asians. Won’t be no problem.

  4. wahoofive says:

    “Administrative leave”? And that’s different from suspension how exactly?