Roosevelt University’s Mansfield Institute for Social Justice and Transformation, a leader in promoting restorative justice over harsh discipline in dealing with kids, is applauding the Chicago Public Schools for a plan allowing restorative justice techniques at area schools.
“We are heartened by the news that CPS officials are considering a new, more effective model for handling student-disciplinary issues,” said Heather Dalmage, director of the Mansfield Institute, which has been a strong advocate and leader in the use of peace circles, peer juries and other restorative justice techniques to mediate conflicts before they lead to violence.
“We believe the CPS plan to eliminate out-of-school suspensions in favor of more congenial approaches for solving conflicts is a good start toward real change that will help us move away from the violence we are seeing frequently inside our schools,” she said. “Our only caution is that if the new plan is to actually work, CPS must truly embrace a culture of restorative justice in its schools, and not just pay the concept lip service,” Dalmage said.
Since 2009, the Mansfield Institute has been working closely with area schools, community groups and dozens of volunteers, including Roosevelt students and faculty members, to put disadvantaged kids on a path of hope and opportunity, instead of on a pipeline to prison.
The Mansfield initiative includes a unique and comprehensive partnership in which Roosevelt students, taking sociology and education courses at the University, do regular field work that includes training and use of restorative justice techniques with students throughout the Morrill Elementary School, 6011 S. Rockwell, Chicago.
“The Morrill experiment has proven to be effective in changing the school’s environment and in reducing violence,” said Dalmage, who is currently working with 40 volunteers at the school. She and fellow sociology professor Alfred DeFreece will lead a new group of 40 Roosevelt students, faculty and volunteers taking the Sociology of Education class that will require extended field experience at Morrill in restorative justice practices in the fall.
Tracking that took place at Morrill since restorative justice practices have been in place show that acts of misconduct by students at the school are down by more than 50 percent.
“Our program has worked in large part because the entire Morrill community, from the principal to the teachers to the students, wholeheartedly embraces restorative justice as the tool of choice in dealing with kids’ frustrations and conflicts,” she said.
“Revising a code of conduct is one thing. Putting it into practice is another. We believe the initiative we have put in place at Morrill is an exemplary model for the kind of real change we need in our schools and for the hope, opportunity and success we desire for all of our school children,” Dalmage said.
“We collaborate with a whole community of restorative justice leaders, practitioners and trainers at various community organizations who are committed, qualified and ready to step in and reform the punitive disciplinary model now in place at CPS to one that is restorative and inclusive,” she said.
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