How restorative justice came--and quickly left

Rebecca Harris

Monroe Elementary Principal Edwin Rivera was excited to learn in fall 2008 that his school would receive grant money to start a restorative justice program. As a former counselor, Rivera is a strong believer in strategies that give schools an alternative to solve conflict and avoid suspensions. 

Monroe got off to a promising start. Rebecca Davis, a social worker from SGA Youth & Family Services, helped facilitate peace circles in several classrooms and trained about 15 to 20 students to serve on a peer jury, which presided over a handful of mock cases before the end of the school year. School administrators were optimistic about the program’s potential.

“I remember our conversation being, ‘We’re planting the seed and then we’ll be ahead of the game’” for the coming year, Rivera says. 

But the momentum was abruptly cut short when Rivera got an email from central office informing him that the program was ending. 

“We were left guessing as to why it was discontinued,” says Rivera.

Monroe was one of five schools that received grants after advocacy groups won an agreement from CPS in 2008 to target $300,000 toward six pilot programs in restorative justice, a strategy that aims to lessen conflict through mediation, peace circles, peer juries and other strategies. At the time, preventing school violence was a high priority in the minds of parents, teachers and students. 

The pilot program ran until March 2010. But Monroe’s participation was cut short, and several other schools started receiving grant services just weeks or months before the grant ended. As a result, the initiative has so far led to sustained restorative justice programs, targeted toward students, at just two schools: Duprey and Hay, where peer juries have taken hold. (See sidebar.) 

At Duprey, a group of six peer jurors has heard two cases this year. Duprey, a former receiving school for students from overcrowded areas, has lost nearly half its student population since the grant ended; this year, it serves just 90 students. 

Read the original story in Catalyst In Depth | Monday, Nov 22, 2010

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