Building relationships and community to prevent and address conflict

Ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline

Zero tolerance and other exclusionary school discipline policies are pushing kids out of the classroom and into the criminal justice system at unprecedented rates. Too many students are lost to our communities this way. Disciplined at disproportionate rates and with heightened severity for minor infractions that used to warrant a trip to the principal’s office, students of color are most impacted.

What Are Restorative Practices?

Restorative practices are processes that proactively build healthy relationships and a sense of community to prevent and address conflict and wrongdoing.

Restorative practices are increasingly being applied in individual schools and school districts to address youth behavior, rule violations, and to improve school climate and culture. They can improve relationships between students, between students and educators, and even between educators, whose behavior often serves as a role model for students. They allow each member of the school community to develop and implement a school’s adopted core values.

Restorative practices allow individuals who may have committed harm to take full responsibility for their behavior by addressing the individual(s) affected by the behavior. Taking responsibility requires understanding how the behavior affected others, acknowledging that the behavior was harmful to others, taking action to repair the harm, and making changes necessary to avoid such behavior in the future.

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Restorative practices also represent a mindset that can help guide adult and youth behavior and relationship management in schools, not another program. They are not intended to replace current initiatives and evidence-based programs like Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) or social and emotional learning models that assist in building a foundation and culture of caring. Programs and initiatives like PBIS complement restorative practices.

Restorative practices work when they are implemented school wide and integrated into the fabric of the school community. When the whole school is infused with restorative strategies, it becomes easier to address issues faster and respond in a thoughtful way because the caring and supportive culture is already present.

View the full guide for educators:  Restorative Practices: Fostering Healthy Relationships & Promoting Positive Discipline in Schools

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The School-to-Prison Pipeline: Time to Shut it Down

The practice of pushing kids out of school and toward the juvenile and criminal justice systems has become known as the “school-to-prison pipeline.” In 2013, NEA members and leaders made a formal commitment to close it. Fueled by zero tolerance policies and the presence of police officers in schools, and made worse by school funding cuts that overburden counselors and high-stakes tests that stress teachers, these excessive practices have resulted in the suspensions, expulsions, and arrests of tens of millions of public school students, especially students of color and those with disabilities or who identify as LGBT.

For those students, it isn’t just an interruption in learning, although it’s definitely that, too—if they aren’t in school, they aren’t learning. A suspension can be life-altering. It is the number-one predictor— more than poverty—of whether children will drop out of school, and walk down a road that includes greater likelihood of unemployment, reliance on social-welfare programs, and imprisonment.

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According to the U.S. Department of Justice, which last year ordered school districts to respond to student misbehavior in “fair, non-discriminatory, and effective” ways, Black students are suspended and expelled at a rate three times greater than White students, while Black and Latino students account for 70 percent of police referrals.

Also, students with disabilities are twice as likely to be suspended than their non-disabled peers, and LGBT students are 1.4 times more likely to face suspension than their straight peers. In Ohio, a Black child with an emotional disability was 17 times more likely to be suspended than a White, non-disabled peer. Combine these “risk factors,” and you’re talking about a child who might as well stay home.

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Schools are unfairly pushing girls out

Too many schools suspend girls for minor issues —such as going against strict dress codes or “talking back.” In general, schools suspend Black, Latina and American Indian/Alaskan Native girls at higher rates than white girls.

These practices tell these girls that school is not a welcome place. These practices may also be informed by illegal gender and racial bias. This tool kit will help you find out if your school’s discipline policy treats girls of color fairly. Use this guide to learn your rights, how you can change your school policy, and where to find help.

  • Black girls are 5.5 times more likely to be suspended from school as white girls.
  • Black girls are more likely than any other race or gender to be suspended more than once.
  • Schools are 3.5 times more likely to suspend Black girls with disabilities than white girls with disabilities.
  • In preschools, Black girls are 20% of the girls enrolled but 54% of the girls receiving out-of-school suspensions; in K-12, Black girls are 16% of the girls enrolled but 45% of the girls receiving out-of-school suspensions.
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  • Schools suspend American Indian/Alaskan Native girls at more than three times the rate of white girls and at a higher rate than white boys.
  • Latina girls are 1.6 times more likely to be suspended than white girls are.

These uneven rates of discipline are not because of more frequent or serious misbehavior. Instead, race and gender bias informs unfair discipline. For instance, schools often punish Black girls who act out because of stereotypes that Black girls are “angry.” Or target Latina girls for not following dress codes because of sexualized images of Latinas in the media.

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Taking Restorative Practices School-Wide: Insights from Three Schools in Denver

The Denver School-Based Restorative Practices Partnership is a coalition of racial justice, education, labor and community groups working to ensure widespread and high-quality implementation of restorative practices in Denver Public Schools and beyond.

Through interviews and focus groups with staff members at three Denver schools that have successfully implemented restorative practices (RP), four essential strategies for taking this approach school-wide were identified:

  • Strong principal vision and commitment to restorative practices.
  • Explicit efforts to generate staff buy-in to this conflict resolution approach.
  • Continuous and intensive professional development opportunities.
  • The allocation of school funds for a full-time coordinator of restorative practices at the site.
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Restorative practices are alternatives to punitive school disciplinary policies that have proven ineffective and racially discriminatory. Using approaches such as dialogues, peace circles, conferencing, and peer-led mediation, restorative practices get to the root cause of student behavior.

Educators also say restorative practices identify issues too minor to be addressed with harsh school disciplinary responses—suspensions, police tickets, removal from class and isolation from other students—and create plans for students to both learn from and make amends for mistakes. When fully implemented, restorative practices improve school climate, increase academic achievement and reduce racial disparities in school discipline.

View the full report from the Denver School-Based Restorative Practices Partnership:  Taking Restorative Practices School-wide: Insights from Three Schools in Denver (PDF)

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Take Action

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Resources

Model Policies

Key Elements of Policies to Address Discipline Disproportionality: A Guide for District and School Teams

View the Guide

The Suspension Crisis

Addressing the Out-of-School Suspension Crisis: A Policy Guide for School Board Members

View the Guide

Movement Building

Racial Justice and Movement Building: Dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline in Colorado and Nationally

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