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An alternative to suspension and expulsion: 'Circle up!'

Dec 18, 2014

from the story by Eric Westervelt on NPR:

Oakland Unified, one of California's largest districts, has been a national leader in expanding restorative justice. The district is one-third African-American and more than 70 percent low-income. The program was expanded after a federal civil rights agreement in 2012 to reduce school discipline inequity for African-American students.

At Edna Brewer Middle School, the fact that students are taking the lead — that so many want to be part of this effort — shows that it's starting to take root.

"Instead of throwing a punch, they're asking for a circle, they're backing off and asking to mediate it peacefully with words," says Ta-Biti Gibson, the school's restorative justice co-director. "And that's a great thing."

Last school year — the program's first year — Gibson says, kids weren't ready to talk things out. "Last year there was a lot of different conflicts, a lot of fights."

This year, he says, they're more willing to "circle up."...

The school tried this alternative discipline approach a few years ago. But problems with teacher buy-in, training and turnover killed it before it got off the ground.

And it's still a big work in progress, says Principal Sam Pasarow. "I believe our staff is struggling with restorative justice because they might feel at times a consequence didn't come down on a student when it should have." ...

They say the data show chronic absence is down dramatically and graduation rates are up at restorative-justice schools, and that at two sites last year the disproportionate discipline of African-American students was eliminated.

Several other urban districts are trying some version of the approach, among them: Chicago; Minneapolis; Palm Beach County, Fla.; and Denver.

Read the whole story.

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