At the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year, Brett Rein was hired as the new Restorative Justice Coordinator. But what exactly is Restorative Justice? This seems to be a popular question at Durango High School this year as recent discussions about suspension policies have become more relevant.
Durango High School has implemented Restorative Justice mainly as a way to “get students back into the classroom,” said Assistant Principal Amy Swartz. By reducing the number of suspension days, the student will ultimately miss less school work. Although this program is relatively new at Durango High School this year, it is safe to say that teachers, students, and administrators alike have already seen a massive amount of positive and encouraging change.
“With Restorative Justice there’s a spectrum,” said Rein. On one end of the spectrum is the reactionary side, where a student who is having issues with attendance, gets caught with a substance, or is frequently involved in conflicts is eligible for the program. The main point is to restore any damage done to a relationship.
“We use the metaphor of throwing a pebble in a pond and there’s ripple effects,” said Rein. Restorative Justice works to repair those ripples that were caused by the pebble. Through the opportunity to talk in a safe environment, the student is allowed to discuss the impacts of their choices and have the opportunity to create a solution.
The other end of the spectrum is “helping to build relationships in the school in general,” said Rein. Whether that’s between students, teachers, or administration. Brett works closely with Durango High School staff to help create a more tight-knit environment within the school. The goal of this branch of Restorative Justice is to create a safer community for everyone.
“It is about giving people a voice, so that they feel heard, so that they have an opportunity to express themselves,” said Social Emotional Counselor Sean Hembree. Restorative Justice is a way to help everyone heal and understand each other. Through this, DHS staff can address behaviors in a constructive way, which is a valuable experience for everyone.
“A lot of times there is a reduction suspension,” said Rein. In most cases, a student who is caught breaking school rules is given a choice: they can choose to be suspended for their set amount of time, or they can work with Rein in the Restorative Justice Program in lieu of more suspension days.
“I want to be a support for everyone in the school,” said Rein. In order to do so, he has to make sure that he is respectful of every side. Brett works hard to make sure he understands the point for view from administration, teachers, and students.
“Students in Restorative Justice put themselves in a position where they both think about and explain their actions,” said Hembree. Students reflect on what they were doing and why they were doing it. This process gives them insight on their actions.
Some students who are caught with drugs choose to “enter a diversion program through La Plata Youth Services,” said Hembree. Entering the La Plata Youth Services (LPYS) program takes the place of enrolling in Restorative Justice. Sometimes, students choose not to take Restorative Justice because they don’t want to explain their actions to their loved ones.
“I work with a student for a set amount of time and after that I’ll still act as a support,” said Rein. In addition to group meetings and discussions, Rein also checks in on his students in the classroom. It is important to encourage the student to stay up to date with school work during the Restorative Justice process.
“The process can’t be entirely transparent,” said Hembree. It is meant to protect the privacy of the student and their family. This can be hard for administrators because they are put in a situation where they cannot provide information on an issue.
“I think it was pointless because even though I went through it, it didn’t change my views” said So. Georgia Mynatt. A lot of students feel that the Restorative Justice program was meaningless because it didn’t reach them in an impactful way. Overall, they feel that it was an unhelpful experience.
“It was nice to talk to someone, but it felt kind of pointless. The actual conversation didn’t help me” said anonymous. The program does not require the student to miss a lot of class time or after school activities, so under the right circumstances, it can be a good option for those who are worried about falling behind.