Saturday, March 4, 2017

Restorative Practices/Restorative Justice

Something that has been on my heart for a long time is the concept of Restorative Practices. I work with challenging students. That simply means, these little guys (and girls) have a lot stacked against them before they ever walk in the door: poverty, parents who forthrightly tell us they don't have much education, etc. It's HARD to be those kiddos.

But you know what, there is a reason why my heart belongs to my school. I was them once upon a time. Seeing them grow, learn and become amazing citizens is truly the most amazing thing I could have ever done with my life. 

About two years ago, I learned about Restorative Practices (also referred to as Restorative Justice) from a colleague. She had gone to a training and talked so highly of the idea that when a mini-session came along, I knew I had to go. And boy did it change everything about my teaching life! 

Especially last year with my largest class ever and some extremely challenging students, I am absolutely convinced that Restorative Practices is what kept me sane and allowed me do still do good work with my students. 

This past winter break, we had another installment of Edcamp Voice on Voxer and one of the groups was on Restorative Justice. We have since renamed ourselves the Restorative Justice League and it has spawned a twitter chat on Sunday nights and a facebook page ( It is also, by far, one of the most active groups I have on Voxer. We are a group of educators and trainers who are that passionate about this topic and helping to restore relationships between students, students and teachers, and teachers and teachers when things don't go well (which in life...things are gonna happen, right?).

The reason this is on my mind so much right now is that my 15 year old (often referred to here on the blog as "Middle Child") got suspended from her high school yesterday. Before I share this, let me point out that I am not complaining about her suspension because I think she shouldn't have been punished. (Believe me, she has not had a stellar weekend because we do NOT play that way in our family. No way.) I am complaining about it because I do not think the punishment fits the crime. At all. I would bet you will probably agree with me by the end.

I have been plagued by this illness for months. Thursday night, it was diagnosed as another sinus infection (I believe this is the third or fourth one since my grandson was born last April). Thus while I really wanted to stay home on Friday to rest, I went to school because a) I had already been out of my room for 2.5 days that week due to WIDA testing and a meeting and b) Fridays are so easy it wasn't going to be too hard to suffer through it. But let's be honest: I felt horrible. I probably also looked horrible. As I was taking my class to art, we stopped for a restroom break and I leaned my head against the wall and closed my eyes; I was so drained I could have literally fallen asleep right there, propped up against the wall. So yeah, I felt like I'd been run over by a bus and then tossed over a cliff for good measure.

So imagine my surprise when I check my email during our Junior Achievement presentation and find an email with the subject line that reads [name of child] OSS. I already felt like death and then I get this email telling me my child has out of school suspension. A kid who has never been suspended in her life. What the actual horse hay is up with that??

I click on the email and discover that she got suspended because she was caught trying to steal from the cafe during lunch. Needless to say I was completely dumbfounded. I couldn't call the school back at that moment because I was with my own students still and had to wait until last recess. I also discovered I had two voicemail messages: one from the dean who sent the email and one from Middle Child's social worker. After getting the entire story, and being told this sort of offense would normally result in a 2-3 day suspension (!!!), I was just dumbfounded. 

I am 100% behind the idea that stealing is NOT okay. Ever. Especially not when you have the money to pay for the item you tried to swipe. BUT I also think 2-3 DAYS out of school for trying to steal a treat that cost less than $1.50 is the most asinine thing I have ever heard of. 

This is where the school could have employed Restorative Justice instead. Here is a nice article that can break down how to deal with things "the old way" versus the "Restorative Justice" way. Personally, I am a huge fan of the Restorative Questions:

What happened? • What were you thinking about at the time? • What have your thoughts been since? • Who has been affected by what you did? • In what way have they been affected? • What do you think you need to do to make things right? 

Had my child's school used these questions and really gotten to the bottom of the motivation behind the attempted theft, there would have been no reason for a suspension. Especially because I was told the reason it was only 1 day was because she is a special education student. Regardless, suspending a child, putting them out of school for 1-3 DAYS over an item that is less than $2 in value is not going to teach the child a lesson. What it is going to teach them is that if they do something bad, they will be at home. What middle class teenager whose parents are not emotionally screwed up doesn't want a 'free vacation' from school?! 

If she was from a home with parents who yelled and screamed all day and parented with violence, the suspension would probably scare her silly, but it would still be the wrong punishment. How does sitting at home for a day (and believe you me, she won't be sitting at home enjoying an extra day off), teach a person not to steal? IT DOESN'T. 

What should have happened? First, a thorough discussion and reflection using the questions above. Second, an apology to the person she harmed (in this case the cafeteria staff and the school administration). Third, mandatory community service at lunch for a week: cleaning tables, picking up trash, sweeping or whatever else needed to be done. That community service would be way more impactful than being sent home. 

I think this bothers me so much (aside from the fact that the punishment does not fit the crime) because there are so many parents I know who wouldn't do anything to the kid at home. It would truly just be an extra day of the weekend to screw around and be away from school. For a child like mine who has severe anxiety, its not a punishment to have another day off. Since I am an educator and don't condone the idea of taking things that don't belong to you, I think having the student serve community service is much more effective. First of all, they won't miss out on instruction and second, they have to be at the scene of the crime and working off their debt until it has been rectified. That, to me, is what would "teach her a lesson" rather than having a day at home. 

1 comment:

  1. Raye, I agree with you that the punishment didn't fit the crime. As a society we have to get away from the idea that making children uncomfortable is wrong. Your idea of punishment is way better than a vacation day most children would receive. Unfortunately, there are way too many parents that would make this impossible. We not only have to educate children but parents why this is so important.

    I am sorry that your child made a bad choice, but you are a great mom and will help her learn and make better choices in the future. This is what teenagers do make bad choices and with good parenting they will learn the lessons when the cost is cheap. Your child will learn a lesson and will be a better person because of it and you. Best of luck!