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"When I first walked the halls of Fenger High School--before they implemented restorative justice peace circles--there was no joking, no laughter, and the tension and fear were palpable. When I returned two years later, the kids in those same halls were laughing and playing. The atmosphere was safe and fun. It was a different school. As a career juvenile justice system stakeholder, nothing I have seen changes kids’ lives more powerfully and effectively than restorative justice work. "
Tom Bilyk, Retired Chief of the Juvenile Justice Division, Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.

Restorative Practices in Schools

Zero-tolerance policies became widespread in 1994, after federal legislation required states to expel for one year any student who brought a firearm to school, or lose all federal funding. It was not long before the results were showing this to be a seriously flawed practice . Every year over three million children drop out of school . When students are suspended and expelled from school for misbehavior they get farther behind in their studies. They have not learned correct behavior, nor have they appropriately been held accountable for their behavior. Teachers who are frustrated with growing violence in schools report they do not know what to do other than eliminating what, to many schools, seems like a “problem” to be eliminated.

Restorative practices in schools, inspired by the philosophy and practices of restorative justice, prioritizes repairing harm done to relationships over the need for assigning blame and dispensing punishment. Based in indigenous wisdom and modern restorative justice philosophy, Restorative Practices increase accountability, and both student and teacher satisfaction while using such events as a natural opportunity to promote social and emotional learning, positive youth development, and cognitive psychology.

According to Belinda Hopkins, author of Just Schools: A Whole School Approach to Restorative Justice, “A whole-school approach to using restorative practices contributes to

  • Happier and safer schools,
  • Mutually respectful relationships,
  • More effective teaching and learning,
  • Reducing exclusion, and
  • Raising attendance.

The restorative approach is based on the belief that the people best placed to resolve a conflict or a problem are the people directly involved, and that imposed solutions are less effective, less educative and possibly less likely to be honored. In order to engage in a restorative approach to conflict and challenging behavior people need certain attitudes and skills. Skills-based training can develop both restorative skills and attitudes.”

In Chicago, Manley Career Academy High School and Christian Fenger Academy High School are both examples of high schools that have made a difference in a few short years by using restorative practices to reduce violence while lowering suspension and expulsion rates. Click above to read about their successes with restorative practices.

Restorative Practices in Schools policies in Illinois:

  1. Senate Bill 100, recently passed by both the Illinois House and Senate with broad bipartisan support, represents the strongest and most comprehensive effort ever made by a state to address the causes and consequences of the “school-to-prison pipeline.” Click here (https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B9br8qH254LEemVialF4endqdVk/view?usp=sharing) to see the most significant components of the legislation.
  2. Restorative measures” is defined in Illinois law as “a continuum of school-based alternatives to exclusionary discipline, such as suspensions and expulsions, that: (i) are adapted to the particular needs of the school and community, (ii) contribute to maintaining school safety, (iii) protect the integrity of a positive and productive learning climate, (iv) teach students the personal and interpersonal skills they will need to be successful in school and society, (v) serve to build and restore relationships among students, families, schools, and communities, and (vi) reduce the likelihood of future disruption by balancing accountability with an understanding of students’ behavioral health needs in order to keep students in school.” 105 ILCS 5/27-23.7(b)(12).


Restorative practices in schools include:

Social Discipline Window: The social discipline window (www.iirp.org) describes four basic approaches to maintaining social norms and behavioral boundaries. The four are represented as different combinations of high or low control and high or low support. The restorative domain combines both high control and high support and is characterized by doing things with people, rather than to them or for them. When students have the opportunity to be cared for and supported as well as to be held accountable for their actions, schools flourish and students' learning is accelerated.