Students Thoughts About Restorative Justice

Restorative Justice has been a year and a half long process here at Animas, but what actually is Restorative Justice?

 

This is the second year working with Restorative Justice at Animas and during its first year here, it has conjured up a bad reputation for being “the easy way out”. Being a Restorative Justice team member since the beginning, and wanting to see what most people thought, the Quill sent out a Google Form asking for student input and feedback. Hopefully by reading this article, more students will find the answers to their questions and possibly more.

When asked if anyone knew anything about Restorative Justice, 51.9% of people said yes while only 29.6% of people said no.

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Many mentioned that they knew it was a “second chance”, that it “restores faith”, and that it is “an alternative to suspension and expulsion. It is also a way to make amends from what harm was caused to restore the student back into the community. As current member of ART(Animas Restorative Team), Maya Blaisdell, states, “Restorative Justice is a practice that uses a more holistic approach in terms of discipline. Instead of giving a student suspension or expulsion, Restorative Justice looks at the bigger picture of why a student acted the way they did. This is done in the form of a circle that is facilitated by students, and consists of the student who did something wrong, members of the school faculty and the student or students who were affected by the actions of the students who did something wrong. Through the circle, a consequence is determined for the student, and a contract is made.”

 

Questions:

I don’t know how effective Restorative Justice is for drug use at Animas, there have been many circles regarding this issue, and nothing has seemed to change.

This question has definitely cross many RJ members minds. Again need I remind you all, this is only the second year that RJ has been put into effect. I agree with you in questioning the effectiveness of circles for drug use. I would say hear the process out. You can’t expect someone who has issues with drugs to do turn 360 degrees and change completely. Those changes take time and in these circles we aim to educate students on the dangers of using drugs in general and at school. We want them to understand that what they do during school ultimately impacts the school community, but what you decide to do on your spare time doesn’t concern the school as much. Long story short, the Restorative Justice team is looking into how to better suit the circles for drug use and make them more impactful and changing the community.

How effective is it?

It is hard to say how effective it has been at AHS because there has been little follow up from what I’ve witnessed but in certain cases it seems to be effective and in others it doesn’t seem to be as effective. This all relies on what the issues are and who was involved.

Have we actually seen it work?

Yes in fact. Most people only remember Restorative Justice through Mateo’s speech at the beginning of last year, but it has been used with other students. The difference is that Mateo presented in front of everyone, whereas most other people have a resolution that isn’t really made public to the whole school. Things as simple as checking in with your advisor each day and creating posters for substance awareness have been resolutions that people have done.

What do you do in the group?

Usually in the beginning of the year we start off with a retreat. This year’s retreat took place at Libby’s house earlier in the month. For newer and older members this is a chance for them to learn more about Restorative Justice and how to be an effective member. Each week we meet and discuss upcoming circles or reflect on ones we just had. After the retreat, our meetings usually consist of reflecting back on takeaways or anything we did at the retreat. Last year, we didn’t always meet each week but this year we are working more on getting information on RJ out to the school and public.

What is the process?

When there is an incident at the school, whether it involves a student and a teacher or a student and another student, the offender will meet with Sean or Libby to decide if they are a good candidate for RJ. If the student and their parents agree to go through with RJ, the schedule a time to meet and do a circle. Then Libby will email the group and ask who is available at that time. Usually only two team members are needed as facilitators and they will meet with Erin or Libby before the circle to discuss what the issue was and to decide which parts of the circle each facilitator would like to lead. In the circle, there is the offender, their parents, their advisor, the person who was offended, their parents (sometimes), someone who was affected by the issue, Sean, Libby, or Erin, and two facilitators. Each person introduces themselves and talks about the issue from their perspective. The facilitators and other members of the circle can ask questions and talk more about the issue. Towards the end of the circle, the offender comes up with an agreement, this is usually lead by suggestions from facilitators or other members of the circle. The facilitators write out a contract for what the offender has agreed to do in the community to make up for what they’ve done. The offender signs the contract and copies are given to their parents and advisor. The original is kept by the school.

What is it?

Restorative Justice is an alternative to suspension and/or expulsion that allows the person(s) impacted and who have caused harm to the school or community to make up for that harm while still able to function in the community.

How often is it needed?

Most of the time, RJ is needed for vaping and other substance use or affiliation but there have been times when it was needed for student teacher conflicts or conflicts involving more than one student.

 

Effectiveness at Animas:

 

When asked on a scale from 1 to 10, 10 being the most effective, these are the responses I received.

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When asked what should be changed about Restorative Justice, answers that people gave were…

  • I would like to see Restorative Justice be used for interpersonal issues instead of drug use, this practice works really well for interpersonal issues, but maybe not for drug use.
  • I would make it a little more than just talking to everyone like they have to do some community service or something like that.
  • Some people see it as a way that they can give a fake apology and get off with a warning
  • I think it works for some and doesn’t for others and that this needs to change to the student, There is definitely cases where this approach isn’t working and I think that there needs to be something done
  • I would like to see actual changes to the people who participate.
  • I’d like if the consequences were more harsher for the bigger issues, like drugs, etc.
  • More structured response to repeat offenses.
  • It can’t be as soft as it is. Especially when it comes to drugs, the rules are becoming more and more lax and the punishments are not nearly as severe which has made the use of drugs during or at school much more prevalent than it was when we had serious punishments (big surprise).
  • I would like to see the program being used as an addition instead of a replacement for other means of punishment. I would also like to see it a little stricter.

 

Last year, we had a panel of people from the community that incorporate Restorative Justice in their lives, come talk to the Animas community. When asked if they found it beneficial, most said they didn’t remember it or said they felt like it didn’t apply to them and a few mentioned that they enjoyed it but didn’t feel comfortable asking their questions in such a big group. If we were to continue the panel I would suggest splitting the groups up by a few advisories and have people write questions down anonymously if they wanted as well as making sure that occurring issues are addressed to ensure a more personalized panel that applies to most people in the school.

I hope that this article has helped you achieve a better understanding of what Restorative Justice is and what it’s purpose is at Animas. The Animas Restorative Justice Team has plans for improvement this year and in the future and hope to educate more on the importance of RJ and the use of it at Animas High School.