The start of the fall semester is fast approaching for Illinois students. As children return to class, an advocate urges school administrators to consider alternatives to traditional disciplinary action.
Michelle Day, founder and CEO of Nehemiah Trinity Rising, a nonprofit that helps organizations create and implement restorative justice practices, has worked extensively with Chicago-area schools. She encouraged other school systems across the state to consider adopting restorative justice approaches instead of traditional punitive discipline programs.
“And when you do that, you can have a restorative environment that engenders the kind of behaviors and the kind of outcomes that not only improve school safety but improve children’s education,” Day said.
Restorative justice can take many forms, but most often it is based on reconciliation and the constructive resolution of harm that one student may have caused another without resorting to traditional sanctions, such as suspension or detention. . The Chicago Public Schools System offers a free online guide to restorative justice to help teachers and administrators apply the principle.
Day explained that integrating restorative justice into schools should be a holistic, top-down process, and everyone from cafeteria workers to school administrators should understand how it works. She added that school leaders should not feel discouraged if they do not see immediate results.
“It takes about three to five years to change a school environment,” Day acknowledged. “But when you do, the results are amazing.”
According to the National Education Policy Center, restorative justice programs could help reduce racial disparities in school discipline. A 2021 study from the University of Pittsburgh found that black students were “grossly overrepresented in rates of school suspensions for minor disciplinary infractions.”
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