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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

How restorative justice can work

Students talk at the peace table at a San Jose Montessori school

Restorative justice can make schools safer, if it’s done well, writes Maureen Kelleher on Education Post.

She sends her daughter to a charter school “founded to create a peaceful environment.” Each classroom has a Peace Table where students discuss conflicts.

When her third-grade daughter was choked by another girl at recess, the teacher sent an e-mail, copied to other staff who help with safety and discipline.

Without using names, the teacher explained that a gossip situation had gotten out of hand and one of my daughter’s classmates had tried to force her into revealing what the others were saying. The classmate put a hand on my daughter’s throat to try to force information out of her. Other girls in their class separated them quickly, and my daughter ran away to safety. Back in the classroom, the girls took themselves to the classroom Peace Table and talked about it with their teacher. She emailed me afterwards to let me know what had happened and pledge the school’s support for my daughter.

Kelleher’s daughter said she would feel safe at school if she got to change her seat — just for a day — and if adults make sure to keep her classmate away from her in the halls and in gym and recess.

I emailed these requests to her teacher and got a positive response within the hour. We also agreed that her dad and I would come in and all three of us would meet briefly in the morning to review the safety plan and make sure we were all on the same page. . . . The teacher let us know that the school is working with the classmate and her family to make sure she gets the behavioral support she needs to interact safely and positively with other students, but we didn’t focus on that very long. Our focus was on making sure my daughter would be safe that day and every day forward.

Two days later, after another Peace Table conversation, the classmate apologized. The two girls “exchanged small gifts as a gesture of friendship.” It was their own idea.

“It’s not easy to create environments where restorative justice can take hold,” Kelleher writes. Some parents at the school complain that “consequences can feel arbitrary or uneven.” However, she’s “glad my daughter is learning the skills to repair and rebuild relationships even when violent conflicts erupt.”

Most students at the school come from Latino families and are eligible for a subsidized school lunch.

How many schools are capable of doing restorative justice effectively? What does it take?

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