ROCKVILLE – The Montgomery County Board of Education discussed restorative justice April 22 as part of an effort to improve student relations and reduce suspensions and other punitive measures.
“Restorative justice really is about a change in mindset from one in which we think the only way to address issues that students may present in school is through the use of student code of conduct,” said Dr. Jonathan Brice, an Associate Superintendent at the MCPS Office of Student and Family Support Engagement.
Discussing the numerous advantages of restorative justice techniques, Brice emphasized that the approach allows students to learn social and emotional skills by understanding harm that can be caused by certain kinds of behavior.
“We’re changing a mindset from wrongdoing and misbehavior on one where there are opportunities to learn about social and emotional skills like empathy and compassion and to really repair the harm that has been done in the school community,” said Brice.
Brice and Deputy Superintendent Kimberly Statham emphasized that restorative justice approaches do not replace the student code of conduct and administrative or criminal punishments.
“There has been some misunderstanding that restorative justice takes the place of our code of conduct,” said Statham. “That is not the case, they work hand in hand,” she added.
Restorative justice programs were piloted for the 2016-17 school year at nine middle schools and two high schools.
Several educators joined Brice at the meeting including Nicole Sosik, Principal of Mario Loiederman Middle School and Carole Working, Principal of Quince Orchard High School. Both schools tested restorative justice programs.
Sosik explained that restorative justice discussions involve the person doing harm, the victim, and numerous community members from both sides including parents.
Participants discuss how a certain incident caused harm to not only the victim but also other members of the community.
“Once you’re in the process, it’s not about debating the details of what happened, it’s about moving forward,” said Sosik.
A preliminary process involves gathering details of an incident and distributing permission forms for parents to authorize permission.
Examples of incidents that result in restorative justice approaches include bullying and theft. Incidents that involve violence or other illegal activity result in suspensions, expulsions, or a law enforcement response.
Working explained that she often gets complaints from students regarding online bullying.
“I’m receiving more emails about cyber stuff than I have in recent years,” she said.
Both Sosnik and Working said their schools have seen a decrease in conflicts leading to administrative punishments.
The presenters and board members acknowledged the program was in its infancy and more needed to be done.