Restorative Justice Belongs in Our Schools – Daniel Jerome
In 2019, RJI invited a contingent of New Yorkers to join us in traveling to Denver, Colorado for the annual gathering of NACRJ. We provided scholarships for ten people. Here are excerpts from an essay written prior to the trip from one of the extraordinary members of our local restorative justice community about their relationship to restorative practices.
In the spring of 2004, Mayor Bloomberg had recently established mini police stations in a handful of schools and a couple of high profile incidents involving NYPD’s over-extension of their authority in schools had just occurred.
In one incident, a principal stood up to a police officer who threatened to arrest a student for failing to remove his hat. The Principal and a school aide were arrested. In another incident, two teachers were arrested for challenging cops who arrested students that were involved in a school fight.
Two weeks later, teachers from another school called 911 for medical assistance after some of their students were involved in a melee. The same officers arrived at the scene and handcuffed the students involved in the fight. When a female teacher protested their actions, one of the officers called her a “bitch” and arrested her. Her fiancé, also a teacher in the school, was arrested when he stood up for his future wife.
The latter two incidents occurred in the building where I taught and were the catalyst for my implementation of restorative justice in schools.
In response to this chaos, with no support from the Bronx Superintendent’s office, my principal and I created a small Intervention Team to develop strong relationships with all our students and be our first line of defense to reduce conflicts and support our most challenging students.
Mediations and restorative conferences were implemented. We developed relations with the neighborhood “crews” and mediated with them, when necessary.
We systematized and codified our practices with referral forms, behavior charts, and meeting scripts. While necessary, these structures were also intended to show transparency and improve efficiency.
We are in a critical moment where both equity and restorative justice are referenced and highlighted by many. However, most of the conversations and policies come from the top. Our task, as RJ practitioners committed to racial justice, must be to combine the two from the bottom up. This means working with all constituencies to develop a theory and practice, informed by the specific conditions of each school community, to implement RJ at our schools.