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GSSWGraduate School of Social Work

Professor Anyon Among Education and Community Leaders Developing Alternative Approach to Punitive School Discipline

October 5, 2015

Assistant Professor Yoli Anyon is part of a coalition of racial justice, education, labor and community groups that today announced a new effort to ensure widespread implementation of restorative practices in Denver Public Schools.

Restorative practices are alternatives to punitive school disciplinary policies that have proven ineffective and racially discriminatory. The youth and parent group, Padres y Jóvenes Unidos, the national racial justice organization, Advancement Project, Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA), Denver Public Schools (DPS), the Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Denver (DU) and the National Education Association (NEA) will document successful restorative practices programs in Denver schools and then share the model for success with other districts across the country that are seeking to replicate, scale and sustain these practices.

“American schools should be sanctuaries of learning; places that spur creativity and prepare children for future success,” said Pam Martinez, executive director of Padres & Jóvenes Unidos. “As public will shifts away from harmful ‘zero tolerance’ policies, it’s imperative to offer school districts transformative tools to improve school climate and boost academic achievement. Our collaboration is about encouraging educators and administrators to adopt restorative practices, while giving them the tools to successfully do so.”

“I firmly believe that the use of restorative practices in our schools has positively impacted our school environments, led to deeper student engagement and has created richer opportunities for our teachers to educate our students. This collaboration will help ensure the district meets the vision of Every Child Succeeds,” said Tom Boesberg, DPS superintendent.

From peer juries, community conferencing and peer mediation, restorative practices get to the root cause of student behavior. Educators also say restorative practices identify issues too minor to be addressed with harsh school disciplinary responses – suspensions, police tickets, removal from class and isolation from other students – and create plans for students to both learn from and make amends for mistakes. When fully implemented, the restorative approach improves school climate, increases academic achievement and reduces racial disparities in school discipline.

To successfully implement restorative approaches, school districts may monitor and collaborate with key leaders and stakeholders. Given their decades-long work addressing racial disparities in Denver schools, Padres & Jóvenes Unidos and Denver Public Schools are uniquely poised to share their framework for success. So far, there are three demonstration or model sites in Denver at North High School, Skinner Middle School and Hallet Elementary School. The program will eventually expand throughout the district. As Padres, DPS, DCTA, DU, NEA and Advancement Project work to expand restorative practices in all Denver schools, they will develop a step-by-step restorative practices implementation guide to be shared nationally.

“Restorative approaches have received national attention as a promising alternative to out-of-school suspension that could stem the school-to-prison pipeline and reduce racial disparities in exclusionary discipline outcomes,” said Anyon. “At the same time, research about successful models in which restorative practices have been taken to scale in American public schools is quite limited. This project will generate much needed research that will directly inform practices in the field.”

“Teachers know that if the school climate isn't supportive and healthy, academics and student learning suffers,” said Vicky McRoberts, UniServ director for DCTA. “Our goal is for ALL students and staff members to feel and believe that their school climate and culture is positive and nurturing. We believe this partnership and the collaboration around restorative practices will help us achieve that goal.” 

“While Denver Public Schools has a district-wide implementation program and several schools at different stages of implementing restorative practices, scaling up to meaningful district-wide implementation has remained difficult,” Martinez said. “As we monitor what’s happening in Denver and other jurisdictions across the country, we are learning successful and sustainable implementation at scale requires time, commitment and multi-stakeholder collaboration. We are happy to provide this in Denver and beyond.”

For more information, contact Assistant Professor Yoli Anyon at 303-871-3657 (yolanda.anyon@du.edu) or Jennifer Farmer at 202-487-0967 (jfarmer@advancementproject.org).