Princeton Public Schools would like to thank Anjali Brunnermeier and our community partner, the Pace Center at Princeton University, which sponsors the RISE internship program, for the content of this Restorative Justice webpage.
Ms. Brunnermeier, a Princeton University student (PU '25), and a graduate of Princeton High School, was awarded a RISE fellowship in 2022. Support from RISE (Recognizing Inequities and Standing for Equity) and the Pace Center provided the opportunity for Ms. Brunnermeier to spend eight weeks working on projects on behalf of Princeton Public Schools, including issues relating to restorative justice.
Thank you to the Pace Center of Princeton University for its ongoing work responding to persistent, recent, and continuing acts of systemic racism and providing ways to address inequalities and injustices. Thank you to Ms. Brunnermeier for her exemplary work during her summer fellowship at PPS.
Princeton Public Schools is committed to providing positive learning environments for all its students. In continued pursuit of this mission, we are working to transition toward the use of Restorative Justice programs as an alternative to 'Zero Tolerance' disciplinary systems.
Why is Suspension Flawed?
Punitive disciplinary practices including suspensions and expulsions (a.k.a. Zero Tolerance policies) for misbehavior are proving to be ineffective, as they fail to address the root causes of disciplinary infractions and often result in no change in behavior (Davis, 2014). Forcing students to miss school during a suspension can lead students to act out even more and create the impression that school districts do not value these students (Schott Foundation, 2014).
Every year in the United States, 3.3 million students are suspended from their schools (Schott Foundation, 2014), including 56,000 New Jersey students (Stamato & Jaffee, 2022). In New Jersey alone, millions of instructional days of school are lost when students are suspended (Stamato & Jaffee, 2022). These policies disproportionately affect students of color and students with disabilities who tend to receive the highest levels of suspensions and expulsions (Schott Foundation, 2014).
Additionally, there is a high correlation between school suspension rates and future student success (Davis, 2014). Just one suspension can double the chance that the student will drop out of school and triple the chance that the student encounters the juvenile justice system (Davis, 2014).
For these reasons, schools around the country are pursuing alternative disciplinary methods to encourage belonging, learning, and success in schools and beyond.
What is Restorative Justice?
Restorative Justice programs take many forms both inside and outside the classroom (Schott Foundation, 2014). Teachers can start the school day with a “Community Building Circle” to allow students to get to know each other, participate in interactive discussion activities, and build a sense of empathy and respect (Ferlazzo, 2020). Classes can also implement “Norm Setting” circles, in which students discuss the behavioral expectations in the classroom and the values they would like to see exhibited (Ferlazzo, 2020). Restorative practices can even be integrated into the academic curriculum using a “Community Circle for Content,” where a learning topic is put forward and students can begin analyzing the content before/after the traditional lesson plan (Ferlazzo, 2020). These activities allow students to take initiative in building their classroom communities and learning experiences, while also promoting positive behaviors.
When the expectations of the school or classroom are not met, a 'Restorative Circle' can also be utilized. In this case, a variety of parties (students, teachers, parents, counselors, etc.) can convene in a discussion group to talk through what happened, each student's feelings, who was harmed, and how the harm can be repaired (Ferlazzo, 2020). In schools with older students, a Peer Court system can be established to more formally hold hearings to decide on productive consequences for the offender (Klasovsky, 2013). These hearings often reveal underlying problems within the school or in the student’s personal life that would have gone unignored if the offender were immediately expelled or suspended (Klasovsky, 2013).
The Benefits of Restorative Justice
The various benefits of Restorative Justice in schools are well studied and regarded as effective alternatives to punitive disciplinary programs. Students tend to learn more from person-to-person interactions than from isolation (Schott Foundation, 2014), indicating that a Restorative discussion will lead to more productive results than a suspension will. Participation in group discussions creates learning environments that prioritize understanding, learning, and connection (Davis, 2013). Restorative approaches promote the skill of “relational literacy” that is crucial to both education and to emotional development(Sauffler, 2011).
Schools that have implemented Restorative Justice programming experience less bullying and student conflict, along with stronger campus communities (Davis, 2013). This also results in lower suspension and expulsion rates, helping students to move forward in their academic careers after making mistakes (Davis, 2013).
Analysis of the neurological impacts of different school systems also indicates that schools with Restorative Justice programs are best equipped to create a positive environment for their students (Sauffler, 2011). When comparing levels of structure and support in schools, research has shown that a combination of high structure (clear rules and expectations) with high support (counseling, re-entry programs, nurturance) leads to the most desirable brain state – “relaxed alertness” (Sauffler, 2011). This research confirms that punitive programs (high structure, low support) are ineffective because they promote an “anxious vigilance” brain state.
More information about these studies and the benefits of Restorative Justice is available in the video and article repositories.
To learn more about Restorative Justice, please visit our Video and Article Repositories, featuring expert opinions, example implementations, and the advantages of these programs.
Restorative Justice Website
Classroom Activities Website