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What is restorative justice?

Updated: Mar 13, 2023

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Over the last few years, restorative justice practices have been introduced to the ERHS community. You may have seen the posters around school or heard about them from your teachers. But what exactly is restorative justice, and how can it contribute to the growth of our school? Although it may seem like a new movement, restorative justice has been present in our community for over ten years and is now more prominent than ever.

How it started

Restorative justice may seem like an obscure concept, but it’s really just a different way to enforce and carry out rules more effectively. It first started as a practice in prison systems as far back as the 1970s and spread to schools, businesses, and communities. The first example of restorative justice is from 1974 in Kitchener, Ontario. The “Kitchener Experiment” required two teenagers to fix the property they vandalized, as well as explain themselves to the property owners. This is what many people consider to be how restorative practices originated. Since then, it’s grown into a globally recognized movement that affects communities everywhere.

The goal of this system was to examine why these offenders did what they did instead of covering up the root of the problem with punishments that do nothing to address the motive. Punishment and crime can feel impersonal and dehumanizing as if it disconnects people from who they are and what they’ve done; this new concept didn’t ignore that problem, it addressed it. In prisons, it actively worked to reform and help criminals address their crimes, and have meaningful and thoughtful conversations with those that they affected. Instead of just issuing punishments, which contribute nothing to personal growth, this system allows victims and perpetrators to grow and learn.

In May of 2013, LAUSD adopted a School Climate Bill of Rights. This required all schools to implement restorative justice by 2020. However, the district didn’t provide proper funding in order to allow this to happen. For our school, that meant that restorative practices didn’t come into effect until this year, when Mr. Steinorth hired our restorative justice coordinator, Ms. Gendrano, in order to improve our school community. Since then, a number of changes have been made on campus to carry out this new system.

How are we carrying this out at ERHS?

There are many ways that Eagle Rock High is carrying out these restorative practices. You may have gone on a trip to the library with your design class to partake in various games or activities, such as a Kahoot! game about drug safety or rules to abide by. Multiple posters have been hung in classrooms and around campus. Some of them inform students about the different tiers of offenses that lead to a reflection while others include a QR code to scan if you need help from an administrator. You can seek guidance for anything - if you are feeling disturbed in your class, you feel targeted or bullied, you feel unsafe in your community, and more. As most of us may remember from the bi-annual Dean’s talk, the faculty has also established a Heart Team to carry out restorative justice and make this community a safer and more welcoming place. This team was created by Ms. Gendrano Adao, our restorative justice coordinator, and consists mainly of the dean, our principal, and our student counselors. The Heart Team focuses on connecting to the students and making sure everyone has a voice in our community. The group is instrumental in implementing restorative justice here at Eagle Rock and is successfully making our school a better place.

However, there are certainly doubts about this new system. Mr. Moran, the ERHS Dean of Students, shares his concerns. “Restorative justice requires a growth mindset. It requires people to look at discipline through a different lens, to look at things less punitively,” he says. “Some people aren’t concerned with why people are behaving the way they are. People want consequences, and that’s not [what this system is.] And it requires a lot of cooperation from all the stakeholders involved; that means the teachers, students, parents, administrators.” Although some people may have trouble grasping this innovative concept, it’s vital that we keep implementing it in order for it to work.

The faculty’s thoughts

Ms. G is the Restorative Justice Coordinator at Eagle Rock High School. Along with being an English teacher for 10th and 12th grade, she does restorative work with the rest of the Heart Team. She sees the re-introduction of restorative practices as an opportunity for growth and connection. “Restorative Justice has really existed as long as communities have existed,” she says. “Because it’s like a practice and a way of life, and an understanding that all human beings are interconnected somehow.” Her job is to oversee the workings of the structure and essentially use it to combat the bigger problems. She says it was originally used to fight the disproportionate amount of suspensions and expulsions, especially for students of color and in low-income communities. Restorative Justice was introduced to Eagle Rock for similar reasons, she says, “Bringing it into our school means a lot of different things…[it] means we pay more attention to the ways that we interact with students.”

Along with a deeper understanding of people involved in wrongdoings, restorative justice is also about connection and making our school a place where people feel safe and heard. “The hope for me is that every student feels like they can turn to their teachers,” says Ms. G. “To be able to comfortably and confidently ask them for support if they need it. That’s the goal.” Additionally, she mentions that she wants all the teachers to have the tools and skills to create an environment that is inclusive and welcoming, and truly comfortable for students to learn. This means that it takes both teachers and students to make a connection in learning spaces, so you can do your part to get this vision to become a reality. “It’s a group effort,” she adds. “And, eventually, we will see the impacts of this on our school.”

Photo by Michael Hicks

Besides Ms. G, our dean Mr. Moran is also involved in the restorative justice scene. In response to a question about the progress so far and the effects of restorative practices in our school, Mr. Moran says, “Yes, for sure. I think it’s a powerful tool in helping repair relationships, and when I look at students who are involved in this program I can see a change.” In addition, he adds that the overall goal of the school district and one of the things Mr. Steinorth implemented when he became principal was to create more support for students overall.

Even though Restorative Justice is fairly new at our school, people who are behind the scenes and watching the progress are sure that it will leave positive effects. “It’s a learning process,” says Ms. G. “And for it to work, we all have to be willing to learn.”

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