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Advocate: IL Schools Should Adopt Restorative-Justice Policies

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Thursday, July 21, 2022   

The start of the fall semester is just around the corner for Illinois students. As children return to class, one advocate is urging school administrators to consider alternatives to traditional disciplinary measures.

Michelle Day, founder and CEO of Nehemiah Trinity Rising, a nonprofit helping organizations build and implement restorative-justice practices, has worked extensively with schools in the Chicago area. She encouraged other school systems across the state to consider adopting restorative-justice approaches in lieu of traditional punitive discipline programs.

"And when you do that, then you can have a restorative environment that engenders the type of behaviors and type of results that improve not only the safety of the school but the education for the children," Day asserted.

Restorative justice can take many forms, but most commonly it is based on reconciliation and constructively addressing the harm one student may have caused another without resorting to traditional punishments, such as suspension or detention. The Chicago Public School system offers a free online restorative justice guide to help teachers and administrators apply the principle.

Day explained integrating restorative justice into schools should be a top-down, holistic process, and everyone from cafeteria workers to school administrators should understand how it works. She added school leaders should not feel discouraged if they do not see immediate results.

"It takes approximately three to five years to change a school environment," Day acknowledged. "But when you do, the results are astounding."

According to the National Education Policy Center, restorative-justice programs could help reduce racial disparities in school discipline. A 2021 study from the University of Pittsburgh revealed Black students were "grossly overrepresented in rates of school suspensions for minor disciplinary infractions."


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