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Grassroots group at Roosevelt announces plan for positive school climate

Posted: 01/10/2014
On the heels of the Obama administration’s call for schools to abandon harsh student suspension and expulsion practices, a coalition of community organizers and academics in Chicago announced Friday that it has developed and will advocate for a plan that calls for use of peaceful, restorative justice practices in addressing student disciplinary problems.
 
Composed of community leaders, organizations and academic institutions, the coalition that has been meeting regularly at Roosevelt University for more than a year has recently completed a 10-page plan that outlines how pro-active forms of intervention, including restorative conversation, questions and mediation, can be used effectively in dealing with student behavioral issues, thereby improving quality of life, education and climate in schools.

“We know that zero-tolerance policies increase the likelihood of failure for students who are suspended or expelled from school,” said Heather Dalmage, director of Roosevelt’s Mansfield Institute for Social Justice and Transformation, which began working in 2010 with community groups and leaders in Chicago to develop a plan for keeping kids on track for success and out of the pipeline to prison. “We applaud the Obama administration for taking a stand in favor of measured responses to behavioral issues, which we believe can have a much greater chance of reaching kids and guiding them to success.”
 
Among objectives, the new plan that the Chicago-based group known as “Embrace Restorative Justice in Schools Collaborative” helped develop calls for personnel, community practitioners,  parents, youth and volunteers to work together in implementing restorative practices that help support school communities.
 
“We believe that restorative practices in the schools will improve the social and emotional health of students and increase academic performance,” said Nancy Michaels, associate director of Roosevelt’s Mansfield Institute.  “We need this policy if we are to successfully dismantle the school to prison pipeline and get all involved in our young people’s lives in order to prepare them for college and productive adulthood,” she said.

More than 15 different not-for-profit entities across the city have been involved in the policy-making endeavor including: Alternatives Inc.; Umoja; Community for Justice Youth Institute; Pamela Purdie; Illinois Balanced and Restorative Justice; Nehemiah Project; Roosevelt’s Mansfield Institute for Social Justice and Transformation; COFI/Power-Pac; Adler School of Professional Psychology; Strengthening Chicago’s Youth, as convened by the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago; independent restorative justice practitioners/ consultants Kirstin De Mello, Andre Tonachel, Sandra Mann and Linda Cooper; the Austin Peace Center and the Juvenile Justice and Child Protection Resource Section of the Circuit Court of Cook County.

“With this approach, we are breaking new ground to help CPS become a model for restorative justice practices,” said Michaels.

As the collaborative moves forward, its goal is to see that restorative practices are implemented in a comprehensive holistic manner in order to shift school culture.

“We want to see a shift by our schools away from things like security cameras, guards and police stations, and to invest in more counselors, restorative justice practitioners and a stronger connection with community services,” said Michaels, who pledged the coalition’s support and assistance in implementing restorative practices in the schools.

For more information on the work of Embrace Restorative Practices in Schools Collaborative, contact Michaels at 312-341-2150 or nmichaels@roosevelt.edu