Replacing suspension with “restorative justice” circles is “effective but exhausting,” concludes Susan Dominus in the New York Times Magazine.
Students and teachers “strengthen connections and heal rifts” by discussing their reaction to an incident, she writes. In Denver and Oakland, schools have lowered suspension rates, improved graduation rates and improved the school atmosphere, she writes.
New York City’s Leadership and Public Service High School started experimenting with restorative practices five years ago.
Principal Phil Santos is committed to the approach, but calls it “exhausting” and “messy.”
He recruited a new dean, Erin Dunlevy, who’d trained in restorative practices. She trained student leaders, but was “rattled when, within the first month of school, one girl from that group brawled with another girl,” throwing a fire extinguisher that broke the dean’s toe, writes Dominus.
Dunlevy has trained students and other deans in how to get each party in a conflict to take responsibility and make amends.” For example, “a student who had left a classroom in disarray might help the teacher clean it.”
She also coached teachers on how to use language that set a welcoming rather than punitive tone. “As opposed to, ‘You’re late, sign this late log,’ it’s, ‘Hey, this class is not complete without you — I need you to be here,’?” Dunlevy says.
Suspensions are way down at the school, but absenteeism is high and college-readiness rates are below the district average, writes Dominus. In fact, students and teachers are somewhat less likely to say the school has a “safe and respectful environment.”