Restorative Justice program drastically lowers days lost to suspensions in LAUSD
Mike Szymanski | March 24, 2016
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LA Unified posted a 92 percent decrease in the number of days lost to suspensions as a result of its Restorative Justice program and the district’s new approach to discipline.
In the 2007-2008 school year, a total of 74,765 days were lost to suspensions, but that number plummeted to 6,221 in the 2014-2015 school year, according to a report issued last week to the Successful School Climate committee of the LA Unified school board. Expulsions were down by nearly half, from 141 in 2011-2012 to only 77 in 2014-2015, according to the district data.
“This is incredible news, and it shows that our approach to Restorative Justice and a new look at discipline is working, even though there were many people who were very skeptical about it,” board member Monica Garcia told LA School Report. Garcia, who chairs the committee and sponsored the program, added, “We want to get this to all the schools as soon as we can.”
The district voted in 2013 to bring Restorative Justice into all schools by 2020. The data now show that the plan is working, according to Associate Superintendent of School Operations Earl Perkins.
“We are aggressively training school site staff to implement this in more sites,” said Perkins, who asked the 45 full-time Restorative Justice teachers to stand at the board meeting. They started off working at 150 schools (paid for by Local Control Funding Formula money) and now have trained staff at 423 schools (nearly one-third of all district schools). “These are still baby steps, nothing can be fixed overnight,” he said.
Other district teachers and staff remain skeptical, because ultimately the new approach makes it harder to remove problematic students from the classroom. Keeping students in class, however, saves the district money that would be lost if they don’t attend.
“When this thing first unrolled there was a lot of skepticism, especially on our end,” LA Unified police chief Steve Zipperman said to the teachers. “These numbers we are seeing here would not be possible without your involvement. The data show it’s working.”
Restorative Justice has been catching on across the country, particularly in urban areas, and takes an approach to discipline that moves away from punishment. It involves restoring a sense of harmony and well-being for those affected by a hurtful act and provides families, schools and communities a way to solve problems as opposed to the student being tagged as the problem that adults must fix.
“We have stopped sending kids home,” Garcia said. “We understood when we started this that we helped create a better solution, there was more learning and guess what? Our budgets were better.”
Four students from University High School talked about their experience with Restorative Justice along with Principal Eric Davidson, who said suspensions dropped from 22 to zero in just a year. “A lot of it has to do with just listening,” Davidson said.
Student Brian Brass said he didn’t believe the program would work, and when someone stole personal items from gym lockers while his team was running track, Brass said he was angry. “I thought it would not work and thought it was like everyone coming together and holding hands and all, but going through the program made me understand that the person has problems and what they’re going through,” Brass said. “It was amazing how this program worked.”
He said that before going through the program, “I wanted to be judge, jury and executioner,” but he said he realized the culprit’s situation and “that he comes from hard times.”
Fellow teammate DeJuan Shelton said he thought things would turn out poorly but was able to sit down and listen. “To hear [the person who stole from them] being honest really opened my eyes to why people do what they do,” Shelton said.
The students said that some of their teachers are still not on board with the Restorative Justice practices, and others seem resistant.
But Deborah Brandy, discipline foundation policy and restorative justice coordinator for the district, said, “We are doing better, absolutely. Are the students staying in class? Absolutely!”
Garcia added, “Hearing these students tell their stories is the best part of the job. You can see and hear what’s working directly from their mouths, and that’s great.”
This week, an article in Cabinet Report noted restorative justice techniques may also boost school climate by strengthening relationships between students and teachers, according to a recent study.
The report, “Restorative Justice in U.S. Schools,” from WestEd, found that in 70 percent of cases, teachers’ respect for students improved, and in 75 percent, students’ respect for teachers increased.
Overall, approximately 70 percent of participants saw a reduction in suspensions and an improvement in the overall climate at their schools, and almost 60 percent reported increased academic achievement. Many said it was too early in the implementation process to be able to report results.
WestEd’s report is based on 169 surveys and 18 interviews across 18 states, including California. Many of the respondents, who practice restorative justice techniques at their schools, were teachers, counselors, assistant principals, social workers and school psychologists – the majority of who had less than 10 years’ experience in leading restorative exercises.