Restorative Justice Takes New Approach to Discipline

Lauren Cincotta, News Editor

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Punishing students is a complicated part of the school system. There is no one-size fits all approach. In recent years, the idea of restorative justice has gained attention in schools nationwide. The goal of restorative justice is meaningful intervention designed to reduce the likelihood of the individual repeating the offense. In some instances, this includes diversion programs, or it might include a conversation with the offender and the victim to repair the relationship and get to the root of what caused the action to happen in the first place.

This year, a version of this program is being implemented at WSHS. Students who are caught vaping for example, will have to go through a three lunch diversion program with Officer Mattina, a program designed to educate them on the dangers of vaping. This approach will hopefully cause students to reconsider making bad decisions by helping them to understand the consequences of vaping rather than simply giving them a detention for violating the policy. “Suspending is not always the answer, it doesn’t help an addicted student,” said SRO Officer Mattina about the new diversion program. He hopes that education and the implementation of fines will discourage students from vaping. But there is hope that restorative justice practices could help reach a meaningful conclusion for a variety of issues, including disrespectful behavior and vandalism, by helping students understand the effects of their actions on other people. When a student vandalizes something in school for example, a traditional response would be detention or suspension. The restorative justice approach might require the student to clean up the vandalism, and possibly meet with an administrator to discuss the causes and impacts of the incident. 

Many traditional methods of punishment do not work for all students. In many cases, what some repeat offenders want is to be sent home. Suspending these students might only lead to repeat offenses. This is where punishments that are meaningful and fair come in. The idea is to make the students reflect on their actions. The In-House Detention program at WSHS is an example of keeping students in school during punishment. Students spend the day working homework and thinking about their wrongdoings. The goal, according to Vice Principal Mr. Girardin, is “to make the punishment fit the crime.” While WSHS uses detention and IHD as common punishments, other schools are starting to turn toward something different. Restorative justice circles are being implemented in some schools to deal with issues such as bullying, and vandalism. These circles force offenders to face the consequences of their actions when interacting with victims and usually a mediator. Whether or not this practice is more effective is up for debate because it is fairly new. 

Districts across the country are wrestling with how to best hold students accountable for their actions. Some think that schools should stick to traditional stricter punishments such as suspension, because the punishment sends a message that such behavior will not be tolerated. Others argue that what students really want when they misbehave is to not have to go to classes, therefore suspending only makes them more likely to act out. These people support providing education and mediation to students to make the experience teachable. This approach takes power away from the system, and restores it to the students. They get to choose how they respond to the situation, with mediation guiding them toward a healthy relationship with those they have offended. Many people hope that teaching this accountability to children from a young age helps them grow into more responsible citizens.