The Oakland Unified School District, one of California’s largest school districts, is at the forefront of a new approach to school discipline. Instead of suspending or expelling students who get into fights or act out, its restorative Justice program seeks to resolve conflicts and build school community through talking in group interactions called “circling up.”
According to a recent NPR story the district’s as-yet unpublished research shows the percentage of students suspended at schools that have fully adopted the program has dropped by half, from 34 percent in 2011-12 to just 14 percent in the following two years. Data also show that chronic absence is down dramatically and graduation rates are up at restorative justice schools. The program’s success has inspired several other urban districts—including Chicago, Minneapolis, and Denver—to try some version of the approach.
Ta-Biti Gibson, one of the Oakland schools’ restorative justice co-directors, says, "Instead of throwing a punch, [kids are] asking for a circle. They're backing off and asking to mediate…peacefully with words. And that's a great thing." We agree! We heartily endorse having a protocol in place for talking out conflicts in schools—and anywhere else where differences typically have led to unproductive behavior.
We want to hear. What do you think of the circle up approach in schools? Is there another environment where you think this approach would be beneficial? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.