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What does restorative justice look like? (


Floyd Branch III, a restorative justice specialist for Montgomery County Public Schools, speaks about the practice at an elementary school PTA meeting. Credit: Caralee Adams for The Hechinger Report

To read more of Caralee Adams' article, please click here.

Elements of restorative justice have long been used in indigenous cultures, and, since the 1970s, as part of alternative sentencing programs in the criminal justice system. The practice spread to schools in the 1990s and accelerated after 2014 as an alternative to “zero-tolerance” suspension and expulsion policies for misbehavior. Those consequences, experts say, are fraught with problems. Exclusionary discipline doesn’t serve as a deterrent and often derails a student’s educational path: Black students, boys, and students with disabilities are more likely to be suspended and expelled than other students, and school administrators often discipline Black students more severely and frequently than white students who engage in the same behaviors.

In 2019, Maryland legislators passed a law requiring districts to incorporate restorative approaches in their discipline policies. Montgomery County, which at over 160,000 students is the largest school district in Maryland, has leaned into the practice, adding staff whose job is to help to build and repair relationships among all members of a school community — students, teachers, parents and administrators. There are still suspensions for serious offenses, according to the system’s code of conduct, but restorative justice is among the discipline options that schools can use.

Shauna-Kay Jorandby, who oversees school engagement, behavioral health and academics for the district, said that based on the results of a recent survey, students themselves are looking for the supports that restorative justice promises.

“We know that our kids need help communicating, talking and understanding each other. We know that they need help with conflict, whether it’s at school or at home. We know they need help with the stressors in their life,” Jorandby said. “I think that [restorative justice] is one avenue. We have to be able to address that in our schools.”

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