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Courtesy of the Root
Published 07/30/2019 | Reading Time 2 min 54 sec
By Cormell Padillow, Jr. Writer and Intern
What is Restorative Justice? Traditionally, it has been used within the context of criminal justice. In recent years, it has been used in education.
However, my recent interview with Justin Daniels, the dean of students at a local school, informed me of its modern usage and how it can be applied in primary and secondary educational settings (i.e., elementary, middle and high schools).
Padillow: “What is Restorative Justice?”
Daniels: “There are many different names for it, but it’s the idea that nobody should be thrown away. It’s about allowing someone to make mistakes and be restored from those mistakes.”
Padillow: “What caused you to look at Restorative Justice?”
Daniels: “Because what we were doing was not working. Traditionally, a kid does something, you give them a chance to redeem themselves, after that, you suspend them. That wasn’t working. We were suspending kids left & right, and they would come back doing the same thing. Because we weren’t getting to the heart of the matter.”
Those last words sparked my interest to delve deeper. I’ve experienced that suspending a student doesn’t change how the student thinks about what they did.
Quite frankly, speaking as a high schooler, I didn’t care when I was sent home for fighting at a school. So, I was prompted to ask Mr. Daniels what he did to make students like me care.
Cormell: “What are some of the things you’ve used for restorative justice?”
Daniels: “We had two kids get into a fight over Snapchat video. We looked at the school policy, which says five days minimum suspension for a fight. But, I knew these two students were academically at risk, and they were making progress. I knew if I suspended them, it would hurt them. I looked at the restorative justice model and required them to do three days of volunteer work at charities at a food & clothes pantry. My only stipulation was that they had to work together. After those three days, we all sat down and had a conversation about why the fight happened, and what would happen moving forward.”
Cormell: What benefits do you see from using this model?
Daniels: “Some of the benefits I’ve seen are that students understand when they make a mistake, it isn’t over. What I saw as a benefit is students much more willing to own their mistakes. Because they knew if they owned it, it wouldn’t be the book slammed on them, and ‘your’ gone for 5 days, 15 days, or the rest of the semester. When it comes to black and brown students, we don’t give them the same chances to be kids, make mistakes, and figure it out.”
My Daniels’ words resonated with me. I’ve learned in high school that suspending students doesn’t solve anything; it makes things worse.
Educating students is the first job of a school. However, what suspending a student does is send them home to do nothing. They are not learning, which means the school isn’t doing its job.
It’s understandable for schools strapped for resources and staff to do the easy thing and get a child out of their hair. It’d be foolish to insist every single student is able to be saved by restorative justice.
Nevertheless, the current system subjects students to the same harsh, non-reforming punishment that the criminal justice system does.
It does not teach; it simply places the ‘offender’ someplace else. So no one has to deal with them.
Not to mention, many studies show black and brown children are more likely to be sent to the office and suspended for the same offense as their white peers. Leading minorities to suffer from lack of classroom instruction.
Mr. Daniels viewpoint presents that a well constructed restorative justice model can be used to teach students life-skills and how to handle real-life situations — as well as supporting their education as opposed to not delivering it to them.
There are many steps to a well functioning equal education society.
Simply working toward equality is pointless because it’s too vague. It’s like going on a diet without a goal. Simply exclaiming, ‘you want to be healthy.’
I argue working toward things like equal funding and restorative justice are feasible goals that have a clear endpoint.
The topic of education is an important one, and stories such as Mr. Daniel’s are an important component of the discussion.
Cormell J. Padillow is a 17-year-old Jr. writer and summer intern at the Black Wall Street Times and is a Wichita, Kansas transplant. He is The Black Wall Street Times’ first intern and is currently a high schooler at Langston Hughes Academy for Art and Technology. Padillow has been a high school policy debater for 3-years and has competed at the National, State, and local levels. His words and pen have become the tool he uses to change the mind of the many.