Madison Schools’ “Restorative Justice”

“Madison Parent”:

The superintendent, school board president and other school board candidates are already talking as if this were a done deal. But what is “restorative justice,” and what will it mean to have student misconduct addressed with a “restorative justice” approach? A layperson’s online search leads to academic papers in the criminal and juvenile justice area from fields ranging from sociology, social work, philosophy and theology, but not much specific research or data on whether or how “restorative justice” has been found to work as an approach to addressing misconduct in schools. The decision to move away from a discipline-based approach to a “restorative justice” approach will have an immediate, on-the-ground, daily impact on the school climate and educational experience encountered by the students and teachers in our schools, and parents of children in the public schools here may very well have the following questions:

6 thoughts on “Madison Schools’ “Restorative Justice””

  1. Hopefully, the Board will take public input prior to approving restorative justice as the basic principle behind the Code of Conduct. This will certainly be a hot topic on the school board campaign trail. It’s pretty plain to me that restorative justice seeks to lessen the suspension rate. Maybe we’ll see an increase in in-school suspensions and decrease in out-of-school suspensions. However, the true test will be if we see a decrease in the number of incidents, period. I can’t say that I’m all for restorative justice techniques. I think they work on some kids and not on others. Key to the discussion is how the kids (or faculty/staff) who are victims feel about it. And hopefully it will be graduated, so punishment differs as kids age, and repeat offenders are given less chances depending on the frequency, recency and severity of their offenses.

  2. As the superintendent says, the MMSD is a data-driven district. Is anyone aware of studies and data on restorative justice in schools (or anyplace else for that matter)?

  3. I was at the special session on the Code of Conduct where the restorative justice plan was the topic. It was specifically discussed at the meeting that the goal is fewer suspensions. They are supposed to take public input on modifications to the Code of Conduct. My understanding is that they are currently implementing the restorative justice plan at the elementary level (ie. no public input).
    After the meeting I sent a letter to the BoE asking them what kind of statistics they have to support using restorative justice and what statistics they will be using to measure the success of the program. I haven’t heard back from anyone and that was Jan 29th.

  4. With all respect to Ann R, I think that it is a little misleading to suggest that some big change in elementary disciplinary policy has occurred at the elementary level. I’m assuming the post refers to the Above The Line/Below the Line approach that elementary schools were asked to adopt this year.
    First, due to lack of time and money for intensive training, in most buildings changes have been minor and at a surface level.
    Second, the approach has more to do with classroom management of behavior than it does with code of conduct issues. If its goal is to reduce suspensions (and it is always our goal to reduce the kind of behavior that deserves suspension), than it is so only by way of preventing behavior from escalating to the level at which a suspension would typically occur. “Bottom line” behavior is still bottom line behavior and is still subject to the same response.
    Personally, I don’t see that this was something that needed to be open for public input. Having classroom management techniques and classroom level behavior intervention micromanaged by a public that is not part of the day to day workings of those classrooms is unrealistic. Obviously if classroom management is being done poorly, the immediate stakeholders (parents/students of the affected classroom) deserve to have some input.
    I would agree that the overall code of conduct for the district is a place for some public input. By and large though? What has been “implemented” at the elementary level is not drastic–it is simply good sense behavior intervention and a simplifying of the language that we use to address appropriate and inappropriate behavior with students in the classroom.

  5. This disciplinary approach was presented at the Performance And Achievement subcommittee meeting of 07-Nov-2005. From the minutes:
    4. Behavior and Discipline Plan
    (Packets included a memorandum relative to new plans for supporting positive student behavior (10/6/05) and a chart depicting the comprehensive system supporting positive student behaviors in elementary schools. Copies are attached to the original of these minutes.)
    Mary Gulbrandsen, Chief of Staff; Karen Kepler, principal of Emerson Elementary School; and Ron Lott, Staff Improvement Planner for Elementary Schools; gave a Power Point presentation on the MMSD plan for supporting positive student behavior (a copy is attached to the original of these minutes). Mr. Lott described how he guides a school through this process. Guiding principles are talked through at the beginning. The goal is to come to consensus about what everyone will do in response to behaviors in order to bring about consistency and lead to an agreed-to, finalized plan. Ms. Kepler described what they have done at Emerson to reduce suspensions and the impact of mobility. She detailed the “above-the-line,” “below-the-line,” and “bottom-line” behaviors that simplify the rules of the school as opposed to the regular student handbook. They are working on some trial curriculum to help determine when staff intervenes and when the administration intervenes. Features of the plan include the “Fix It” Plan (a copy is attached to the original of these minutes) that is completed by the child to help him/her process the behavior. The Fix It plan is given as an alternative to consequences and comes in pictorial and written versions. Mr. Lott noted that there are some children who are taking some time to change their behaviors but a number are having one experience with a Fix It plan and are not having another incidence. The data seems to bring on good conversation with the staff. Suspensions are down. Lunch clubs have been formed, there is now only one calming room that includes things the students can do to help them process, teachers are processing with these students while the principal covers the class, etc.
    Discussion: How the decision is made about which schools receive this program. Plan for rolling out within two years. Using principal groups to eliminate those disciplinary plans at odds with this plan. Middle schools will be rolled out through the Middle Grades Design Team. Plan was well received by high schools. Agreement that suspensions do not change behavior; people are looking for something like this. Athletic code will also mirror this kind of restorative practice. Encouraging the involvement of Educational Resource Officers (EROs) only when necessary. Fall meeting revolved around teaching positive behaviors. Parent groups will be part of the entire process. Data is being tracked.

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