Restorative Justice in Schools

Restorative Justice is a discipline program that is gaining support in urban schools across the nation. The reason it is gaining acceptance is that a disproportionate number of minority students are being punished for inappropriate and irresponsible school behaviors—and federal guidelines are attempting to reduce the problem. 

Although the approach has good intentions, significant problems have developed because teachers across the country are at their wit’s end to conduct their classes without an increasing number of disruptions. A prime reason is that students are not being held accountable for inappropriate behaviors. Restorative Justice can encourage misbehavior by lavishing attention on students for committing infractions. Where this approach has been tried, it has backfired.

As a high school counselor in an urban high school in Los Angeles, I learned that disruptive students justified their behaviors when meeting with similar students. Talk therapy was interesting and enlightening but had little if any effect on changing behavior. In a nutshell, Restorative Justice is talk therapy.

Restorative Justice is being tried for the simple reason that schools do not know how to use authority without coercion. Although school districts are reporting fewer suspensions since adopting the approach, that doesn’t necessarily mean fewer infractions. In fact, many districts are seeing more classroom disruptions.

Politicians can praise the new system, but it’s teachers who must deal with the disruptive and sometimes violent results. The Teachers Union in Chicago complained the city’s new student-discipline code has left teachers struggling to control unruly kids. “It’s just basically been a totally lawless few months,” one teacher told the Chicago Tribune.

In Syracuse, New York, teachers complained that student behavior has worsened since the school district changed the discipline structures in favor of restorative justice practices. They say teens are more apt to fight, mouth off to teachers and roam the halls under the more lenient policy. They’re even seeing increasingly violent behavior among elementary school children.

Los Angeles Unified School District is seeing a similar spike in campus offenses after it followed federal orders to reduce suspensions of African-Americans. Even threats against teachers are ignored, as administrators THINK their hands are tied by the new policy.

In the Orange County, California, the Santa Ana district has seen increased defiance toward teachers. There is a better approach—even in this district. View it.

For more information to learn how to use authority without coercion, see