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Restorative Justice

3 days ago

Restorative Justice is not a new philosophy, but it has been newly mandated in 2016 by the State of Michigan (House Bill 5619) as a required process when students are being punished for behavior in school. This law stipulates that before choosing suspension for students, school administrators must first assess and address discipline situations using other strategies, thus eliminating “zero tolerance” policies across the state.

Grand Blanc is not only implementing the required process but is embracing the philosophy that Restorative Practice teaches educators, administration, and students. Instead of concentrating solely on the punishment of the student that has offended, it shifts focus to the responsibility of that individual to make right whatever situation they have created and encourages empathy for the party they offended against.

Last summer, several Grand Blanc Schools employees from elementary, middle and high school levels participated in a special training program given by Roy Burton of Michigan Restorative Practices Trainers & Consultants (MIRPTC). The program teaches 4 key features: Respect, Responsibility, Repair, and Re-Integration. More information on MIRPTC can be found here.



Miranda Heemsoth, Student Advisor, and Brian VanBuren, Responsibility Room Supervisor at East Middle School, both say Restorative Practices have made a huge difference in behavior in their halls. VanBuren says it’s changed the whole feel of the Responsibility Room, from being solely a place with consequences to a place where discussions take place. Students are expected to find some way to deal with whatever conflict has arisen, whether it has been with another student or a member of the faculty.

Students still may serve a suspension. The successful process can reduce the amount of time they serve, as the goal is always to have students in school… but it’s also about what happens after the punishment, and having the student understand the feelings they’ve created for someone else and come up with ways to make the situation better. In one case, a student who was suspended for being disrespectful to staff chose to write a letter to the teacher – an apology and what they intended to do differently - upon their return after a suspension. The teacher expressed their gratitude to have that connection because it made the student’s return less awkward for both parties. 

Another goal is to reduce the amount of re-offense by healing the issue instead of just delaying another conflict. That healing may include an apology, and it might include separating the parties involved for a while. East Middle School principal, Jodi Kruse, and Asst. Principal Scott Turnbow agree that they’ve seen a notable drop in offenses, as well as the seriousness of offenses, since instituting Restorative Practices.

Restorative Justice takes on different forms at different age levels, too. The elementary schools might have “Peace Circles” where students can safely have a discussion about their feelings that’s mediated by staff. Middle or high school students might have a meeting with administration and parents that similarly allows the student to understand their impact and come up with a tangible way to make up for their offense.

Heemsoth says that even just the language in the classroom makes a difference. For example: “Stop talking.” becomes, “It makes me feel disrespected when you speak while I’m speaking.”- connecting students to the consequences their actions have on another human being. The attendees say having that language be consistent in the student’s education is key, which is why Grand Blanc Schools intends to expand the Restorative Justice training district-wide through the Strategic Plan over the coming years. 

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