NUSD Reconstructs Restorative Justice Program

The Restorative Justice Program, a program helping students resolve on-campus conflicts, undergoes a change in oversight

Novato Unified School District acquired oversight of the Restorative Justice program at Novato middle and high schools as control was shifted from the YMCA to NUSD.

NUSD accepted responsibility for the program, adding it to their grant proposal. The district hired Restorative Justice Specialists late October. The training and incorporation of a Peer Court and other restorative practices took place in the following weeks. Until that time, the Restorative Justice panel was not convened to hear any cases.

The Restorative Justice Peer court, made up of volunteer student jury members, reviews cases and determines appropriate steps a student must take in order to make up for their mistake. Tanya Ruano, campus supervisor and newly hired Restorative Specialist, is in charge of running Restorative Justice peer groups at lunch time. According to Ruano, members of the Restorative Justice program help students overcome their problems, which includes resolving conflicts through listening and mediating, helping to improve grades, and referring them to a counselor or psychologist if the student is interested.

“Admin and parents can tell a student what they are doing wrong, but sometimes it really takes their peers to help them out for them to truly understand that maybe what [they are] doing is wrong,” Ruano said.

According to Prevention Program Coordinator and Manager of the Restorative Justice Program Evelyn Zuroske, the change in control will give participating members the ability to respond more quickly to on-campus situations while also educating campus staff and teachers about the benefits of Restorative Justice and how it works on that particular campus.

Zuroske said that the purpose of Restorative Justice is to help move discipline away from just mere punishment.

“School engagement and connectedness are important aspects to building a safe school environment. Restorative justice helps schools move away from punitive measures to a supportive, skill building approach where everyone has a personal learning opportunity,” said Zuroske.

According to Ruano, when a student gets in trouble, Restorative Justice allows for the suspension time to be cut in half. Ruano added that the Restorative Justice team tries to understand the root cause of the misbehavior and prevent the student from continuing to make the same mistake.

This is done through making a “restorative plan,” which is developed by jurors at a Restorative Justice hearing. The plan aims to repair the harms caused by a student’s actions. A restorative plan could involve reflecting on one’s mistakes by writing an article or essay about what they did, issuing an apology, completing community service hours and coming back themselves to serve on the restorative justice peer courts for a given number of times.

The decision of whether a case is sent to Restorative Justice often rests with the students and teachers involved in an incident as well as Assistant Principal Mike Casper, who oversees discipline at San Marin. Casper said that Restorative Justice is suitable for students who commit lower suspendable offenses because it keeps them in school and in class.

Although Casper said that he has gotten some criticism in the past for not utilizing the program all of the time, Casper believes he is obligated to do what is best for students, and sometimes the best thing for students on campus is for him to resort to suspension.

“The student has to take responsibility for what they did, feel bad about it and want to restore the relationships,” Casper said.

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