Democratizing Schools: Restorative Justice in the Face of Zero Tolerance

You might well have heard of public school environments as places of "zero tolerance," authoritarian in nature, and even comparable to jails or correctional facilities in terms of their disciplinary measures. Tardiness results in an entire lesson missed sitting in study hall; disrupting class earns a whole day of detention; rough-housing might lead to suspension, even expulsion. These punishments only further alienate the offender and do not address the needs of the victim or school community. Restorative justice is a movement that, in effect, seeks to democratize schools. Though the term "restorative justice" is not yet common in the education system, it has proven its potential to become as ubiquitous of a phenomenon as "zero tolerance" in schools. Restorative practice is a cooperative, community-based approach to discipline: rather than doing justice to or for the offender, it is working with all those involved to repair harm done to the victim or community and establish responsibility for one’s actions. The current educational system does not adequately (if at all) create a sense of belonging or connectedness, instill a sense of responsibility for one’s actions, or effectively address recidivism. Restorative justice offers a platform to imbue these skills in both the administration and students, to create community, and to address the root of the problem in terms of disciplinary measures. Rather than replacing or over-turning traditional disciplinary measures, restorative justice should be used in conjunction with them....

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