TRENTON, NJ – A bill aimed at reducing racial disparities in school discipline, and being championed by Assemblyman Dan Benson (D-Hamilton), has been approved by the New Jersey General Assembly.
“As school districts seek to adopt restorative justice practices, it is crucial for the state Department of Education to play a role, through this pilot, to develop best practices and provide guidance,” said Benson. “Ultimately, our goal is reduce truancy and violence in schools by ensuring groups that often are disproportionately affected by school discipline, such as racial and religious minorities, victims of school bullying and violence, as well as those living with mental illness, are seen and heard. Implementing restorative justice practices can ensure not only that discipline is more effective, but that the needs of the school community and those affected by the student's actions are considered in any post discipline remedy.”
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.
“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.