Date of Defense:
May 20, 2011
In many schools across the country “zero tolerance” disciplinary policies rely on suspensions and expulsions to prevent violence and maintain security. Critics of these policies argue that they do not address causal factors and restrict administrators’ options, often leading to punishment that is inequitable. Some schools are turning to alternative models for discipline, intended to keep students in class and avoid the negative outcomes related to suspension and expulsion. One such alternative is a disciplinary policy based on a restorative justice framework designed to hold a student accountable for his/her actions while acknowledging the student’s individual circumstances. Since 2008, Minneapolis Public Schools has offered restorative justice services as an alternative to suspensions, in partnership with community organizations such as the Legal Rights Center of Minneapolis.
This technical report summarizes the pilot evaluation of the Family and Youth Restorative Conference Program (RCP), implemented by Legal Rights Center staff in conjunction with MPS staff. The evaluation design of the RCP consisted of pre-and post-conference surveys of student participants that assessed student outcomes related to satisfaction, awareness of community supports, positive communication with family members, increased levels of connection to school and problem solving, and reducing levels of problematic behavior at school. Key informant interviews with Minneapolis public school administrators assessed program implementation and conference processes.
Results from initial analysis of student outcomes were generally positive, although due to small sample size, few self-reported behavioral changes were statistically significant. High levels of satisfaction with the program were reported. Reports from key informant interviews indicated positive regard for restorative practices in schools but identified areas for program improvement. Overall, it seems that student participation, and to a lesser extent family members and school participation, in the RCP is a positive experience, but further research and data on behavioral outcomes is needed.