There have been many movements that have had an influence on education. In the 1990s a major initiative in education was a zero tolerance policy for students who violated disciplinary policies. Zero tolerance policies were accelerated with the implementation of No Child Left Behind and mandated harsh penalties in the form of suspension, expulsion, alternative schooling, and juvenile justice referrals for a wide variety of problematic student behaviors (Teasley, 2014, p. 131). A 10 year study by the American Psychological Association concluded that the use of exclusionary policies “did not improve school safety” (Gonzalez, 2012).
It also concluded that “zero tolerance has been a catalyst for the school to prison pipeline” and has “had multiple negative effects on student behaviors including school disengagement, noncompliance, tardiness, absence, truancy, and disrespect for authority” (Teasley, 2014, p.131). According to Weingarten, a strong supporter of zero tolerance in the 1980s and 1990s, zero tolerance does not make schools safer nor is it fair to those students effected by the policy. Instead, a significant amount of research revealed “policies resulted in a disproportionate number of kids of color suspended, expelled, and referred to law enforcement” (Winter, 2016).
Zero tolerance is a reactive way to deal with behavior. For example, GIVE TWO TO THREE SENTENCES explaining from zero tolerance or neutral point of view.
However, in order to develop proactive solutions that empower minority students with low socioeconomic status, alternative sociocultural theories that consider the social capital of minorities must be explored. “Socioeconomics cannot be viewed as the main contributor to poor educational outcomes, but as a way to relate social experiences in order to help them achieve.” (Cramer, et al add year)
In order to move away from the zero tolerance approach in schools, the use of culturally responsive teaching through restorative justice practices has been identified as a less punitive way to approach discipline in schools. Restorative justice rests on a value set that includes building and strengthening relationships, showing respect, and taking responsibility (Teasley 1). This paper explores a restorative justice approach as an alternative way to change unwanted (negative) student behavior. Two questions will be addressed: What are the most important components of restorative justice implementation in a school setting? How can school leaders embed these practices in their district policies and Code of Conduct policies in order to integrate restorative practices into their School Improvement Plans?
These questions will be answered in three ways, followed by solutions from a restorative practice approach. First, information about the Oakland Unified School District will be presented, how did they implement restorative practices? How did their approaches to Discipline Policies and Code of Conduct policies support restorative practices for each and every individual child in their district? Next, this paper examines Discipline Policies and Code of Conduct policies of three schools in the Midwest that have high suspension rates and dropout rates, and which also have a significant amount of minority students who come from, low socioeconomic families. These districts do have some practices to support student needs in place.
Yet, they have not yet embedded restorative practices into their discipline policies and code of conduct policies, which implies most of what they are implementing are still zero tolerance practices, but with inconsistent supports. Finally, this paper will provide analysis and potential solutions for three struggling districts on how they can embed restorative practices in their discipline policies and Code of Conducts within their current district plans in order to see reductions in suspension rates and dropout rates, while raising attendance rates in their districts.