"Restorative justice" strategies keep kids on track to graduate

Bills in the Maryland Legislature in this session would make important changes in the ways our schools are managed from the classroom to the principal’s office.

maryland_state_house.jpgUnder the general heading of “Restorative Justice” these bills would help improve classroom climates to benefit teachers and students – and, ultimately, parents and families. Using these strategies, students are more likely to stay in school, graduate, and stay out of the criminal justice system.



 

Bills in the Maryland Legislature in this session would make important changes in the ways our schools are managed from the classroom to the principal’s office.

Under the general heading of “Restorative Justice” these bills would incentivize school systems and on-site administrators to manage disciplinary approaches and optimize classroom climates to benefit teachers and students – and, ultimately, parents and families. Using these strategies, students are more likely to stay in school, graduate, and stay out of the criminal justice system.

“Restorative approaches” vary from situation to situation but include “conflict resolution, mediation, peer mediation, circle processes, social emotional learning, positive behavioral interventions and supports, and/or rehabilitation,” according to a fact sheet from the proponents, including the Maryland Coalition to Reform School Discipline.

  • The classic responses of schools to disciplinary problems – suspension and expulsion – have been shown NOT to improve studentmaryland_state_house.jpg behavior, resolve conflict, or improve school climate, and instead to INCREASE the risk that excluded students drop out or become involved with the justice system. Proponents of these bills cite a major 2018 study in the huge Chicago school system in which measurably large alternative solutions to discipline in numerous schools found that “reductions in the use of suspensions in Chicago public schools, even for severe infractions, were not associated with declines in student safety; in fact, some students felt safer, and overall test scores and attendance improved.

Closer to home, a 2018 study of Baltimore schools that have incorporated restorative approaches shows they “are experiencing reductions in suspensions and chronic absence, greater teacher job satisfaction, improved academic outcomes, and often dramatic enrollment increases.”

This session’s restorative justice bills package, based directly on the December 2018 recommendations of the Maryland School to Prison Pipeline Commission, endeavors to keep students in school rather than pushing them out through ineffective, exclusionary discipline practices. The Maryland Coalition to Reform School Discipline supports these measures, which have been shown to improve overall school climate and student behavior in a manner that is equitable and helps students stay on track to graduate.

The bills, described below, generally enable school systems to create alternative, restorative-justice responses to disciplinary situations, through both funding and oversight of results including rigorous reporting on suspension and expulsion practices, especially where racial disparities are evident.

slate_for_school.jpg►HB 725/SB 766 – requires local school systems to develop and implement plans to facilitate and promote the use of restorative approaches.

  • HB 1229 – creates a State fund to support local school systems’ use of restorative approaches
  • HB 1208 – creates a State level board to oversee and monitor the implementation of restorative approaches plans at the local educational agency level
  • HB 439 – prohibits school resource officers and security from being involved in routine discipline matters
  • HB 704 – allows the Maryland Longitudinal Data System Center to analyze data on the long-term impact of exclusionary discipline and juvenile justice involvement
  • HB 950 – requires the State to make data about high-suspending schools and schools that disproportionately suspend students of color and students with disabilities more accessible to the public.

The Maryland Coalition to Reform School Discipline is a group of advocates, educators, attorneys, community members, and others who are committed to ensuring that the discipline of students in Maryland Schools is fair, equitable, appropriate, and designed to keep kids in school and on track to graduate.