Suspensions at Bunche High School, a continuation school in a high-crime, high-poverty community of Oakland, Calif., dropped by 51% last year. Disrespect for teachers has declined; the school is safer. Students are more focused on their studies and many have stopped cutting class.
Teachers at the school say these positive results are due in large part to a radically different approach to discipline called restorative justice: a bold alternative to the typical zero tolerance policies that lead to mandatory suspensions and expulsions. "Restorative justice is a major cultural shift from a punitive model to a restorative model," said David Yusem, Program Manager of Restorative Justice for the Oakland Unified School District, one of the first districts in the nation to embrace the practice.
Oakland first introduced the program in 2006 at its Cole Middle School. District leaders planned to close the school due to low test scores when it started a restorative justice pilot program. In the three years since embracing the practice, suspensions dropped by 87%, violence decreased dramatically and expulsions became non-existent. The district took notice and in 2009, it overhauled its system and made restorative justice the new model for handling disciplinary problems. In 2011 it hired a program manager and created a system to roll it out to all the schools in the district.