Restorative Justice Should Replace Zero Tolerance

By Abbosbek Adxamov ’16

Suspension rates have doubled for the past decade because many schools practice zero tolerance. An alternative is the adoption of Restorative Justice which provides a guide to respond to conflict and harm in a positive way.

In the United States, the majority of schools support the zero tolerance discipline to deal with misconduct, where students are sometimes suspended or even expelled. According to the article, “Dignity in Schools Campaign New York,” suspensions involving the zero tolerance policy have increased by a whopping 200 percent between 2001 and 2010.

Zero tolerance does not necessarily address misbehavior, but actually increases suspensions and expulsions as research has found. In the school year of 2002-2003, there were about 32,000 suspensions, which according to New York Civil Liberties Union’s “Education Interrupted,” have now doubled!

Punishments disrupt the learning environment and do not improve behavior. Schools are there to teach students good habits and make them feel safe but by punishing students, schools are making them feel like outcasts without providing an effective solution to the problem.

“Zero Tolerance is not beneficial,” said Richard Franzese, Assistant Principal of Security. “In the 2003-2004 school year, we had 240 suspensions averaging to more than one suspension a day when we had a zero tolerance policy; we are nowhere near that number today, but just a fraction of it.”

Mr. Franzese also acknowledged that for a school our size, suspension numbers are quite low. According to “Dignity in Schools Campaign New York,” there were about 73,000 suspensions in the 2008-2009 school year in NYC public schools. Since suspension rates are high overall in NY, Mr. Franzese suggested that many of the schools do not necessarily practice Restorative Justice.

Now on the other hand, Restorative Justice has been proven to be beneficial to the school and community in many ways. According to the guide for “Implementing Restorative Justice”, restorative discipline helps the offender recognize the effect his actions had on others through a justice process where the victims express their emotional changes. This process builds relationships and strengthens the community. Unlike zero tolerance discipline, restorative discipline enables the student to repair the harm done to the victim.

“Our school has always practiced some form of Restorative Justice,” said Mr. Franzese. “Ever since we got rid of the zero tolerance policy, discipline has been improving and in terms of discipline and safety, I believe that our school is in a very good place.”

Schools should be helping students through hard times and preventing them from harming themselves or their peers, instead of immediately suspending them. If more schools adopt the system of Restorative Justice there is no doubt that it will create a safer community and decrease suspension rates.

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