Last week we identified the risks to our most vulnerable students from zero tolerance discipline codes — more suspensions, more dropouts and more youth incarceration, all disproportionately impacting minority and special needs students — and the Department of Education’s efforts to support more effective and less discriminatory policies. (THE YOUTH FORUM: FROM ZERO TOLERANCE TO RESTORATIVE JUSTICE). Today, we consider a solution: Umoja Student Development Corporation’s Restorative Justice model creates the conditions for students and teachers to restore conflicts and reduce disciplinary infractions through social, emotional and behavioral skills that leave teachers better positioned to delivery high quality instruction. Based in Chicago, Umoja focuses on the school as a strategic arena for the prevention, intervention and interruption of the vicious cycle of community conflict, violence and retaliation. Umoja utilizes a whole school Restorative Justice model, which includes strategic planning with administrators and school leaders on restorative justice, discipline and behavior systems; a peace room which serves as a hub for restorative practices and interventions; a disciplinary intervention curriculum which teaches social-emotional and leadership skills; professional development for teachers and school staff; and Community Builders: an intensive summer internship for students designed to develop student voice and leadership in Umoja’s partner schools.
AND THE RESULTS SO FAR? Since UMOJA introduced the program into Manley High School in the 2010-2011 academic year, dropout rates have been reduced by 85% and out-of-school suspensions have dropped 30%. In just one year of programming at Foreman High School, drop-out rates were reduced by 13% and higher level discipline referrals, mostly related to violence, dropped 15%. In just the first year of the program at Sullivan High School, there were 36 first quarter out-of-school suspensions compared to 472 total last year. Restorative Justice programming has demonstrative success. It should be supported and emulated. In contrast, zero tolerance has served to strengthen the school to prison pipeline, further removing our most vulnerable children from the education so critical to any hope so many of them will have for a meaningful future. In Illinois, one of every four African American public school students was suspended at least once during the 2009/2010 school year – the highest rate in the country. We can do better. We and our children deserve nothing less.
For more information, see the informational links below and UMOJA’s response to the new federal discipline guidelines.
(Full Disclosure: I am a UMOJA Director)