An Alternative to Suspension and Expulsion: ‘Circle Up!

NPR

Oakland Unified, one of California’s largest districts, has been a national leader in expanding restorative justice. The district is one-third African-American and more than 70 percent low-income. The program was expanded after a federal civil rights agreement in 2012 to reduce school discipline inequity for African-American students.

At Edna Brewer Middle School, the fact that students are taking the lead — that so many want to be part of this effort — shows that it’s starting to take root.

“Instead of throwing a punch, they’re asking for a circle, they’re backing off and asking to mediate it peacefully with words,” says Ta-Biti Gibson, the school’s restorative justice co-director. “And that’s a great thing.”

Last school year — the program’s first year — Gibson says, kids weren’t ready to talk things out. “Last year there was a lot of different conflicts, a lot of fights.”

This year, he says, they’re more willing to “circle up.”

The school tried this alternative discipline approach a few years ago. But problems with teacher buy-in, training and turnover killed it before it got off the ground...

 

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