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Education Lab is a project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

Topic: restorative justice

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February 17, 2015 at 5:00 AM

Interest grows in new model for school discipline and youth justice

Monae Trevino, second from left, is embraced by a fellow student during a restorative justice meeting at Big Picture High School in Burien. Photo by Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times.

Monae Trevino, second from left, is embraced by a fellow student during a restorative justice meeting at Big Picture High School in Burien. Photo by Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times.

The paper hanging inside a second-floor classroom at Garfield High School spoke more pointedly than a raft of research articles about student frustration with traditional approaches to school discipline.

Under the question, “Why are you here?” 16 teens willing to devote weeks to getting trained as restorative justice mediators offered their answers:

“Healing harms,” one student said. “Unequal treatment,” added another. “Injustice toward students.”

School discipline in Seattle is so lopsided — with black students suspended at five times the rate of whites — that the federal Office for Civil Rights is investigating. But educators, parents and students, impatient with the slow pace of an inquiry that has been ongoing since 2012, are moving ahead with a solution known as restorative justice, which aims to repair harm, rather than focus solely on punishment.

“Everybody agrees that the system we have is not working,” said Garfield Principal Ted Howard. “We can’t afford to suspend kids for 10 days — do they ever catch up? I’ll tell you, it was a bitter pill for me, as a black man, to look at the data.”

In the past month, the urgency for a better answer has echoed up to the highest levels of King County government. King County Council member Larry Gossett said: “The jury is still out on how well restorative justice projects will lower suspensions and expulsions in our schools. But this holds some solid promise. And I am going to be one of those pushing for it more.”

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Comments | More in News | Topics: restorative justice, school discipline

February 5, 2015 at 5:00 AM

Seattle teachers want district to outline new discipline approach

Loren Demeroutis (right), principal of Big Picture High School in Burien, speaks to students during a group discussion about drug use as part of the restorative justice process. Photo by Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times.

Loren Demeroutis (right), principal of Big Picture High School in Burien, speaks to students during a group discussion about drug use as part of the restorative justice process. Photo by Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times.

While federal investigators continue to pore through discipline data in Seattle schools, concerned about a pattern of punishing minority students at higher rates than whites, many of the district’s teachers say there’s no need to wait for a formal verdict. They know there’s a problem, and they want to move ahead with a solution that could address it.

Jonathan Knapp, president of the Seattle Education Association, said the union plans to hammer out a proposal this month, urging the school district to consider restorative justice as a new model for student discipline.

“I sense not just a willingness, but an eagerness to get to it,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Restorative justice, as described in an Education Lab story last month, treats misbehavior as harm done to a relationship and focuses on repairing it, rather than simply suspending students. Teachers who have used this approach in other cities, like Denver and San Francisco, say it can make a huge difference in classroom dynamics.

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Comments | More in News | Topics: discipline, restorative justice, Seattle Education Association

December 16, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Using discipline to help kids feel better about school, not worse

Nicholas Bradford, founder, Restorative Justice Center of the Northwest

Nicholas Bradford, founder of the Restorative Justice Center of the Northwest. Courtesy photo.

Schools nationwide are facing the hard-to-refute fact that using suspension to discipline students doesn’t do much to improve their behavior — and may make it worse.

But what if there was a way to nudge kids who disrupt classrooms or bully peers to atone for those violations by confronting them?

What if the atonement itself actually strengthened the relationship between students and their schools?

Nicholas Bradford, a member of the Coast Guard Reserve, says such a technique exists, and it’s called Restorative Justice. Maybe that sounds a bit kumbaya, but the approach has been used successfully in tough Oakland schools and in some prisons.

Bradford spoke with Education Lab about this practice, and its implications for students here.

Q: What exactly is Restorative Justice, and why do you think it’s a smart way to approach school discipline?

A: It’s an approach to conflict that holds a youth accountable for harm, while simultaneously building relationships. The usual way — suspending kids — just pushes them out and further damages the relationship between student and teacher.

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Comments | More in News | Topics: discipline, Nicholas Bradford, race