Questions you are likely to hear if you oppose or question restorative justice:
Why do you support suspending kids and causing them to miss class?
A: Disruptive or unsafe behaviors cannot be allowed to persist in the learning environment. There is a point where the only option to stop the disruptive behavior(s) is to remove the individual student from the classroom and move them to an alternate setting. Sometimes that setting can still be in the school building; other times, the only option is to send them home. Unfortunately, there is a small number of students who have a very difficult time functioning in the average classroom environment and in order for other students to continue their learning, they must be removed.
Some schools report that restorative justice reduced their suspensions by 50%. Is that not progress?
A: Many schools stopped suspending students despite no actual changes in behavior and that practice skews the data and fails to provide an honest representation of student behavior and discipline at each school.
Restorative justice addresses racial disparities within student discipline. Why would you want students of color to face more punishments than white kids?
A: It is wrong to administer discipline differently based on skin color and there is no reliable data to show that restorative justice actually improves the disruptive and even violent behavior that previously showed up in school discipline metrics. No one can state with certainty that restorative justice addresses racial disparities in discipline. Students should be given disciplinary consequences based on their choices and behaviors and it should have nothing to do with their racial or ethnic background.
Restorative justice aims to break the student-to-prison pipeline. Don’t you think it’s important to keep students out of jail?
A: Of course we think it’s important to keep students out of jail but failing to address student behavior immediately and letting the behavior escalate, is not an effective way to achieve that goal. On the contrary, it can backfire and lead to an escalation of behavior that becomes criminal in nature. Rigorous research has shown restorative justice to be far less effective than its proponents had hoped and promised.
If restorative justice is not the solution then what is?
A: There is not a one size fits all solution for every school district. Restorative justice can be part of the solution for minor non-violent offenses, but we must consider the other children in the classroom, not just the offender when considering discipline options. We also must consider the needs and safety of teachers and staff. All students deserve to learn and be safe in school. No teacher should feel that their physical safety is at risk when they go to work. Restorative justice as a discipline strategy for violent behaviors does not improve student outcomes and does lead to a much more chaotic, and at times dangerous, school environment.