Student Safety and Restorative Justice

Zero-tolerance behavioral policies spread throughout the United States in the mid-1990s, after the Gun-Free Schools Act of 1994 required states to expel for one year any student who brought a firearm to school, or lose all federal funding.

Similar policies have since extended to drug-related incidents and physical confrontations. Zero-tolerance has since been criticized for a variety of reasons, from being generally ineffective to resulting in egregiously unfair consequences for students and even teachers.

Ron Brown College Preparatory High School (RBCP) takes a different approach, which was recently featured in a story with National Public Radio. The heart of the episode echoed a sentiment we’ve believed for years: schools often are the safest places for students to be and represent the greatest opportunity to restore and develop their personal character.

The leadership at RBCP model an attitude of fewer suspensions and greater patience. Instead of suspensions, rule breakers are engaged in a conversation. The goal is not to punish students, but to embark on a conversation about why the misdeed occurred, with the hope of reducing the probability of recurrence by restoring justice in the lives of students. In situations of misbehavior, students often act out of immediacy of emotion and pride, within a cultural milieu that discourages transparency, forgiveness and receptiveness.

RBCP is an exemplary model of how we envision schools and districts using Gaggle Safety Management. We partner with schools and districts across the country in an attempt to give them an opportunity to intervene positively and create teachable moments when student exhibit a need for restoration.

As as Jana Hoggle at Satsuma City Schools in Alabama points out, “It’s not about the bad kids, but the sad kids.” While Gaggle can be used as a tool for discipline, it is built for schools and districts interested in identifying opportunities to shape the moral horizons of their students.

Here are some best practices to consider as you create procedures for how to handle incidents reported by Gaggle Safety Representatives:

Investigate incidents thoroughly.

Be sure you are as informed as possible prior to engaging students. We always encourage our customers to follow up with Safety Representatives to verify whether there is any additional information that may shed light on incidents. Customers can also use the Safety Management Dashboard to see if students involved have other incidents, or whether there are other pertinent incidents in the school.

Have conversations.

Don’t merely discipline students. Have conversations with them about the motivations of their actions. Ask when what they were trying to accomplish, and why they went about it the way they did. This is not merely for you. Students often act out of immediacy and do not always fully reflect upon their own motivations for actions. This can be eye-opening for them.

Be persistent and patient.

You cannot force a student to change his or her moral horizon, and you cannot force character development. This requires buy-in from the student. You can, however, tend the soil, so that students are primed for change when the time is right. Persistence is central, even when you don’t perceive improvements. More is happening internally for the student than you realize. The conditions for change are laid long before it manifests itself visibly.

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