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Repairing relationships and improving the educational climate

In a positive move for Michigan students, lawmakers passed the Restorative Justice Law (House Bill 5619) in the summer of 2016. This law stipulates that before choosing suspension for students, school administrators must first assess and address discipline situations using other strategies. In many cases, restorative justice is recommended as a viable solution to behavior problems.

Restorative justice looks at the bigger picture of behavior and education, and advocates for a positive remedy in schools and beyond. It’s not a system, but rather a cultural shift in the school climate that promotes community and communication.

According to the Michigan Department of Education, “Research has shown Restorative Justice improves the school environment, enhances the learning and development of young people, and promotes safety, inclusion, respect, and positive relationships. Research also shows that schools who implement RJ programs see a lowered reliance on detention and suspension; a decline in disciplinary problems, truancy, and dropout rates; and an improvement in school climate and student attitudes.”

No tolerance for zero tolerance
The law has eliminated “zero tolerance” discipline systems across the state. These outdated, one-size-fits-all models were unrealistic in addressing a student population with diverse needs and challenges. Choosing suspension as a first line of defense not only has a negative academic impact, but also prevents schools from finding out the root cause of a student’s misbehavior–making it more likely to be repeated. By mandating restorative justice and other positive behavior management measures, Michigan has doubled down on its commitment to education by helping to keep students in the classroom where they can learn and flourish.

Learning appropriate behavior
Restorative justice empowers students to take responsibility for their actions. Rather than being sent out of school for infraction, they must restore and repair their community by making amends for their wrongdoing. It provides the type of social learning unavailable in many traditional academic settings: how to cooperate, address interpersonal issues and handle negative emotions.

Restorative justice in action
The new law not only protects students, but offers support for districts with clear expectations and guidelines on how to establish a restorative justice practice. According to the law, “[restorative justice] should be the first consideration for offenses such as interpersonal conflicts, bullying, verbal and physical conflicts, thefts, damages to property, class disruption, harassment, and cyberbullying.” It also outlines the process: “the attendees of the conference would be called a restorative justice team, and may require the student to apologize; participate in community service, restoration of emotional or material losses, or counseling; pay restitution; or any combination of these. The selected consequences and time limits for their completion will be incorporated into an agreement to be signed by all participants.”

Supporting schools
Michigan Restorative Practices Trainers and Consultants (MIRPTC) believes that restorative practice gives people the potential to do something different; to challenge the way that people behave and change. Working with schools for over 10 years, our organization uses a data-driven approach to rewire school environments, and help free them of ineffective methods that reinforce bad practices. We’re currently working with many districts, who have been enthusiastically embracing restorative justice and its potential to transform their schools. To learn more, continue to visit our blog, or sign up for our newsletter.

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