TRENTON, NJ – A bill aimed at reducing racial disparities in school discipline, and being championed by Assemblywoman Angela McKnight (D-Jersey City/Bayonne), has been approved by the New Jersey General Assembly.

“How a child’s behavior is addressed at home and in our schools can either nurture or change the course of their future,” said McKnight. “We raise a child as we want them to go, with the understanding that a mistake does not have to be repeated and it doesn’t have to chart their path in life. Restorative justice programs may be just what we need to change the startling school discipline statistics in New Jersey and create safe, positive school environments for our children and staff.”

By directing the Commissioner of Education to establish a three-year “Restorative Justice in Education Pilot Program” to implement restorative justice practices in the public schools, the legislation, if signed into law, would be aimed at improving the socio-emotional and behavioral responses of students through intervention; and decreasing recidivism rates among students who violate school district code of conduct.

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“Restorative justice” is defined as a system of dispute resolution tools that allows all parties of a dispute to be involved in defining the harm and devising remedies while giving the necessary attention to community safety, victims’ needs, and the need for offender accountability. 

Principals of schools selected to participate in the pilot program would be required to limit the number and duration of student expulsions and suspensions to the greatest extent practicable, while demonstrating a commitment to exhausting other forms of non-exclusionary discipline prior to using out-of-school suspensions or expulsions.  

Selected school districts will also be required ongoing professional development to teachers and other staff in several areas related to student discipline and restorative justice. 

A total of 15 school districts, divided evenly based on geography, will participate in the program if it is approved and signed into law.

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