Applying Social Justice Principles through School-Based Restorative Justice

By von der Embse, Nathan; von der Embse, Daniel et al. | National Association of School Psychologists. Communique, November 2009 | Go to article overview

Applying Social Justice Principles through School-Based Restorative Justice


von der Embse, Nathan, von der Embse, Daniel, von der Embse, Meghan, LeVine, Ian, National Association of School Psychologists. Communique


Social justice has recently received attention within the school psychology community in such publications as Communiqué, School Psychology Review, Trainer's Forum, and Journal of Educational & Psychological Consultation (Briggs, Sarr, & Shriberg, 2008; Li et al., in press; McCabe & Rubinson, 2008; Shriberg et al., 2008; Shriberg 8c Fenning, 2009). Yet, social justice is a nebulous term, as opined by Connelly (2009), who cautioned against searching for what is wrong and instead striving for the highest standards and recognizing needs of every unique child. Shriberg and colleagues (2008) have sought to define social justice through a school psychologist lens while giving practitioners goals and applications for advancing social justice. As part of an ongoing effort from the NASP Social Justice Interest Group (Sarr, Nelson, 8c von der Embse, 2007), this article offers practitioners an example of applying social justice principles through school-based restorative justice. First, restorative justice is defined. Second, two examples of application of restorative justice ideas and strategies are provided. Finally, the connection between restorative justice and the related constructs of prevention and social justice is made.

WHAT IS RESTORATIVE JUSTICE?

Within the school context, school-based restorative justice broadly defined is an approach to discipline that engages all parties who have been affectedby a transgression. It is a conflict resolution tool that brings students, families, schools, and community members together to resolve conflict, promote healing, and restore communities (Zehr, 2002). Restorative justice is a powerful tool that directly addresses misbehavior, imposes accountability through an engagement with all afflicted parties, and empowers both victim and offender to define the incident and understand the harm caused. Restorative justice moves school discipline away from "offend, suspend, and reoffend" by engaging in a dialogue that helps people to understand why the incident occurred, how to resolve the conflict, and teaches alternatives to violence and aggression (Zehr, 2002).

For the majority of practicing school psychologists, it is believed that social justice is either a foreign topic or just emerging as a topic of discussion on the professional radar screen (Briggs, 2009). As such, it is also believed that restorative justice as an everyday practice is also low on the priority list for most in the field. Planning for, implementing, and evaluating a philosophical construct in the schools always presents a challenge for school psychologists. NASP Past President Gene Cash addresses these issues and argues for the utilization of "all the tools that have been developed over these many years and that will be developed in the future, both in psychology and education, that make us uniquely equipped to make a difference in the lives of children" (Cash, 2009, p. 2).

As a primer, The Little Book of Restorative Discipline for Schools, by Amstutz and Mullet (2005), provides an outline and summary of the philosophical underpinnings, the psychological defense, and the practical uses of restorative justice. Social justice has been defined as seeking to overcome institutionalized or systemic inequity or unfairness (Shriberg et al., 2008). Restorative justice represents one way to operationalize this idea of creating safe, equitable, and peaceful schools through institutional change in discipline practices. Amstutz and Mullet (2005) lay out specific models and applications of restorative justice for use in schools, yet emphasize that the philosophical framework is a critical element for implementation.

SCHOOL-BASED RESTORATIVE JUSTICE: TWO EXAMPLES

Restorative justice in the Lansing School District (LSD) first took root 5 years ago as part of a United Way grant. From its humble beginnings starting in one elementary school, the program has rapidly expanded to include 19 high school, middle school, and elementary school buildings. …

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