Last week, School Health Services Coalition, a division of Alameda County Health Care Services Agency in California, released Restorative Justice: A Working Guide for Our Schools. [Be patient: the document can take a bit to load in your browser. –Ed.] The publication is a resource for anyone who seeks to implement restorative justice in the school setting. The 43 page PDF covers the following:
- Introduction to restorative justice and its application to schools
- Use of the approach on three levels (1) as a school-wide prevention practice, (2) to manage difficulties, and (3) for intense intervention
- Benefits, outcomes and impacts from current evaluative reports
- Guidance on initiating restorative justice at the school or district level
- Abstracts of publications and websites for additional information and support.
During the writing of this publication, we talked to innovators implementing both restorative thinking and restorative processes in schools. Many reported that, in implementing restorative processes, they “just had to figure it out as they went along.” While this may not seem helpful toward our understanding of how to implement restorative justice, figuring it out as we go along is one of the keys to its success.
Restorative justice is not unstructured; but the structure is different from what we have learned to expect in our systems. Restorative justice encourages us to be constantly present, attending to needs as they arise. It exercises our ability to be dynamic rather than static in our responses. It also creates a safe space for people to express themselves—their strengths, assets, responsibilities, and also, their vulnerability. As a result, it humanizes all those involved and promotes connection and healing.
The understanding that issues will have to be figured out as they go along invites a practitioner to inquire with an open mind. It allows leaders to listen and to observe the needs of the entire student body. It teaches administrators and staff that there is more than one way to respond to conflict and more than one way to launch a restorative justice initiative.
Schools are communities created by staff, faculty, students, and families; these are the true experts. Because each school creates its own unique culture, the implementation and practice of restorative justice has to be tailored to the needs of each school and with the knowledge and support of each school community. For this reason, there is no standard program or curriculum. Programs and curricula come and go; restorative practices go deeper. They result in a whole new way of thinking.
The purpose of this publication is to provide support and guidance for teachers, health workers, community leaders, and school personnel who seek to implement restorative justice in their schools and to shed light on implementation. It is certain that the implementation process in each school setting will be new for each school. Just like those who have informed this guide, new stories will continue to pave the path to understanding.
We welcome feedback on the publication. We have also created a forum, www.restorativeschoolsforum.org
, for practitioners to connect, communicate, and share their experiences with implementing restorative justice in schools.
Jon Kidde, Restorative Justice Consultant
Jon Kidde has been exploring the concepts of restorative justice for over 10 years and has helped design and implement several programs based on restorative justice in Wyoming and California, conducted research on the perspectives of youth, parents, victims, and community members who have interacted with the Juvenile Court, and facilitated strategic planning for organizations. He currently coordinates the implementation of a statewide initiative to enhance Court Diversion Programs in Vermont.
Rita R. Alfred, Restorative Justice Consultant
Rita has dedicated the last 30 years serving youth and families in the Bay Area CA. Rita was the Restorative Justice Coordinator at Cole Middle School in the Oakland Unified School District. Rita is a practitioner and trainer in Restorative Justice and with others has facilitated over 1000 experiential trainings for adults and youth in its philosophies and practices. She is also a first responder to crises in schools including student homicides and acts of violence on campus. Rita has raised two sons as a single parent.