Building a Positive School Climate Through Restorative Justice Practices

Adopted in August 2022

California State PTA believes students are more inclined to demonstrate positive behavior when their school climates and relationships inspire feelings of trust, safety, and belonging.

California State PTA supports restorative justice practices as a powerful approach to equitable student discipline rather than punitive-based methods that have been historically used in school settings.

Restorative justice is a broad term that encompasses a growing social movement to institutionalize non-punitive, relationship-centered approaches for avoiding and addressing harm, responding to violations of legal and human rights, and collaboratively solving problems. In a school setting, restorative justice is a theory of justice that focuses on mediation and agreement rather than punishment.

The negative outcomes associated with punitive school environments are especially harmful for students of color and students with disabilities. A substantial body of research shows that suspensions and expulsions are strongly linked to a wide range of negative outcomes for students, including missed instructional time, low achievement on standardized exams and involvement in the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Students who have been suspended are three times more likely to drop out of high school by 10th grade than students who have never been suspended.

Unlike zero-tolerance approaches, which seek to hold students accountable through punitive discipline—often in the form of classroom or school removals—restorative approaches achieve accountability through the development of caring, supportive relationships and through strategies that allow students to reflect on their behavior and make amends when needed to preserve the health of the community.

Restorative justice practices provide families, students and communities a way to ensure accountability while at the same time breaking the cycle of retribution and violence.

Restorative justice practices should seek to work with students to come to a solution by focusing on repairing harm through inclusive practices that engage all educational partners.

California State PTA believes restorative justice practices empower students, strengthen campus communities, prevent bullying and reduce student conflicts. Students learn how to interact and manage their relationships with adults and peers. They become better equipped to understand how their actions impact others and how to monitor future behavior. Restorative practices encourage positive outcomes for students and the school community.

Restorative justice practices implemented with fidelity should include the following key principles:

  • Voluntary participation.
  • Respect for all involved.
  • Inclusion of the people impacted.
  • A focus on the harms, needs and causes that have arisen.
  • Consensus-based decision making focused on how to repair the harm and prevent future harm.
  • Opportunity for dialogue that aligns with the above principles.
  • Expanding the capacity of the community to create a just and fair response.

Because each school creates its own unique culture, California State PTA believes the implementation and practice of restorative justice should be tailored to the needs of each school and with the knowledge and support of each school community. Schools should intentionally anchor practices in shared core values. This provides a common language for students, parents and teachers to understand what is expected from all members of the school community.

Additionally, school discipline, classroom management and social and emotional learning cannot be separated. As schools look at new initiatives to address these fundamental aspects of teaching and learning the overlap of restorative justice practices, Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), trauma-informed teaching and Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) all work together to build safer more effective schools. The practices complement each other and work together to meet the goals of providing clear, consistent routines and expectations that lead to better functioning classroom and school communities.

The successful implementation of restorative justice practices requires the involvement and commitment of the entire school-community including families. Introducing restorative practices to the students’ families in an inclusive, collaborative and culturally sensitive manner is critical for success. When families are seen as a key educational partner group and then invited to participate early on in the process, implementation and ongoing sustainability of the restorative practices approach is much more likely to succeed.

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