Kathy Evans, an assistant professor at Eastern Mennonite University, which offers a graduate certification program in restorative justice for educators, shares Rotherham’s concerns. Restorative justice can’t exist in a vacuum, Evans said. Schools also have to address the campus-climate issues that contribute to student behavior.
Quantifying the number of schools using restorative justice is difficult. In addition to the large-scale district programs that have been well-documented, many teachers are opting to use the model in their individual classrooms. That’s one of the reasons why a group of restorative-justice advocates and educators met last summer to begin outlining plans for a national association, according to Evans. The goal is to support grassroots efforts and to ensure that there’s both consistency and accountability for restorative-justice programs in schools.
Evans said she observed a restorative-justice circle at a school recently in which the students were still looking to the teacher for permission to speak. That’s a red flag, she said.
“Educators do this quick-and-dirty one-day training and they think they’re qualified to do restorative-justice work—they’re doing the best they can with what they do know,” she said. “But the circles are supposed to equalize the power and give students the right to speak. That didn’t happen.”