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Educators push for restorative justice in South Bend schools

South bend, Ind.—

Cultural conversations continue inside South Bend Community School Corporation.

A partnership between IUSB and the district aims to tackle a history of discipline disparities in the classroom.

“How do we create an environment where all students have the ability to learn, have access to an education in a meaningful way. And restorative justice is the way we create that system,” said Carmen Williams, principal of Jefferson Intermediate.

Williams says a solution to that longstanding problem in the district is introducing restorative justice in education.

It’s an ideology intended to empowering staff and students.

The program would provide in depth training and support for everyone in the building from the principal to bus drivers.

Williams says conversations about cultural understanding are hard for many to have.

A student wrote a letter to her, noting behavior a teacher displayed in class that made the student uncomfortable.

“Ideally this student could’ve had a conversation with the teacher directly,” said Williams. “That intimate relationship and powerful and meaningful relationship has to happen in the classroom first.”

Tasked with presenting solutions, Williams addressed longstanding problems before the school board Monday.

Problems like disparities in discipline among students of color.

“What South Bend is experiencing as far as disproportionate exclusionary discipline, achievement gaps for African American students, especially males is a pattern across the country,” she said.

The last report from the district two years ago shows black students made up 62 percent of suspensions in 2015.

According to the district’s Office of Research & Evaluation,  that amounted to 12,952 total days of out-of-class discipline for African American students compared to 2,810 total days for White students or 2,062 for Hispanic students.

Could the remedy be restorative justice?

“There’s this dance of soft skills like empathy and caring, passion, resilience, dealing with children who come from poverty and how you help them, see something more for them than they’ve seen,” said Marsha Heck, professor at IUSB. 

The concept developed from the Heck’s teachings in her classes.

She and Williams are now working together to help build bridges between students and school staff.

“We need to have people deal with who they are, white, black brown and what their relationship is with people of other colors and it has to happen out here in the schools,” said Heck.

This pilot program maintains it can happen through providing training in cultural competency, supplying professional development and support to staff from the experts at IUSB an establishing a coordinator to ensure it.

Next week, administrators here will receive training through Restorative Overview Day at Clay High School.

 Marshall and Jefferson are the two schools that will be included in this pilot program.

The program is asking for support from the corporation and community to help fund its roll out.

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