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Discipline and rules

Restorative justice

What is restorative justice in school?

Restorative justice, or restorative practice, is a way of thinking about and responding to harm. It’s not about punishment but about repairing harm and healing relationships. It involves a different way of looking at things compared to traditional approaches to discipline. It can be used in schools to respond to misconduct, and to reduce the number of stand-downs, suspensions, and expulsions.

A key principle is that the whole school community works together to develop rules and to find ways to move forward when rules are broken.

Restorative justice works best if the school invests time and resources to make sure that the process can be carried out properly and safely. This involves staff training and regular reflection on the process. Everyone involved must want to do restorative justice before it can go ahead. No one should be forced into taking part in restorative justice, or not be given an option.

Depending on the situation and behaviour involved, it could range from an informal chat to a sit-down conference.

It can involve the person who has caused harm, the person harmed, school staff, whānau, community members and, if necessary, the police. The purpose is to establish what harm was caused, why it was done, the wider emotional context, what is needed to put things right, and how the situation can be avoided in the future.

It allows everyone involved to meet and gain a better understanding of the impact of the incident, the reasons it happened and the outcomes that everyone would prefer.

Things to consider before agreeing to take part in restorative practice

Think about whether restorative practice is a good option for you in your situation. The following questions can help you get started:

  • Does my school have a restorative justice process in place?
  • What are my expectations for the restorative meeting?
  • Who leads the meeting? Do they have any restorative practice experience?
  • What support would I need?
  • What other options does my school offer to resolve the situation?

For information about restorative practice in schools, go to www.pb4l.tki.org.nz/PB4L-Restorative-Practice

What if I don’t want to participate in restorative justice?

You don’t have to. Restorative justice should only go ahead if everyone involved agrees to take part. No one is allowed to force you to do it and you must be given the option.

What if I’ve been through restorative justice at school and it went badly?

Talk to the staff involved, or the principal, and let them know. See “Raising concerns and making complaints” at the end of this guide

You still have the same options to resolve the situation as you would if you hadn’t taken part in restorative justice. These options should be set out in your school’s policies. For example, you’ll have the option to make a formal complaint or follow the harassment complaints procedure.

Contact Community Law’s Student Rights Service on 0800 499 488 for help.

More information on restorative justice in schools

Sean Buckley and Gabrielle Maxwell Respectful Schools: Restorative Practices in Education (Office of the Children’s Commissioner and The Institute of Policy Studies, Victoria University, Wellington, January 2007), www.occ.org.nz/publications

Restorative Justice in New Zealand, www.restorativejusticeaotearoa.org.nz

Positive Behaviour for Learning Restorative Practice, www.pb4l.tki.org.nz

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