Teachers feared “restorative justice” was “a hippy-dippy-granola, nobody’s-going-to-get-into-trouble’ concept,” said Jenny Wellington, an English teacher at Pittsfield Middle High School in New Hampshire.
But the school is learning to use student mediators, advised by teachers and administrators, to deal with low-level offenses, reports Hechinger’s Emily Richmond in The Atlantic.
The goal is to provide a nonconfrontational forum for students to talk through their problems, address their underlying reasons for their own behaviors, and make amends both to individuals who have been affected as well as to the larger school community.
When Hope Parent left her cellphone unattended, classmate Brandon Bojarsky grabbed it and send obnoxious text messages to people on her contact list. Hope’s mother, who lives out of state, was upset to receive a text saying, “I hate you.”
At the justice committee meeting, a student mediator asked Brandon what he’d been thinking.
“I thought I was doing something funny, and then I realized how badly it affected her and her family, and I felt really bad,” he replied.
Instead of serving detention, he sent apology letters to recipients of the prank texts, apologized in person to Hope’s father (his mailman), and talked to students in younger grades about what he’d done.
As he completed each of the obligations, Brandon found it easier to meet Hope’s gaze when he saw her at school. He also said he realized something else—he didn’t want to be in trouble anymore. (In fact, that incident was his last serious infraction, said the committee advisor, Jenny Wellington.)
Now both in 10th-grade, they say “hi” when passing in the hallway between classes.
Pushed to reduce suspensions, schools are rushing to adopt alternatives, says Andrew Rotherham of Bellwether Education Partners. “We have a proven track record in the American education system of taking things that are working, replicating them quickly and badly and consequently discrediting the otherwise good idea,” he said. “Restorative justice . . . may not be what every school needs.”
Implementation isn’t easy, writes Richmond. “In Los Angeles Unified, the nation’s second-largest school district, it’s been a bumpy two years since suspensions for classroom misbehavior were banned in favor of a restorative justice model.”