Brooklyn Community Foundation Releases Results of 4-Year Study of Restorative Justice Implementation in Schools

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Brooklyn Community Foundation Releases Results of 4-Year Study of Restorative Justice Implementation in Schools

Brooklyn Community Foundation is releasing the findings of its Brooklyn Restorative Justice Project, a four-year school-based pilot program in partnership with the NYC Department of Education and the Mayor’s Leadership Team on School Climate and Discipline. The project—which focused on a small cohort of Brooklyn secondary schools—aimed to implement restorative justice as an alternative to punitive discipline; with a goal to positively transform schools, repair harm, and promote the equitable treatment of Black students, students with disabilities, and LGBTQIA+ students citywide. 

The Brooklyn Restorative Justice Project is unique in that it prioritized addressing racial disparities in school discipline, and offers much needed research on restorative justice implementation. Findings from the project evaluation include an overall reduction in suspensions at participating schools, an increase in students’ sense of safety, as well as equitable access across student populations to non-punitive disciplinary responses. Moreover, the project has yielded a series of comprehensive recommendations for school administrators and educators on how to successfully implement restorative justice practices to achieve racially just and culturally responsive school cultures.

“We initiated the Brooklyn Restorative Justice Project to advocate for, and invest in, changes to our education system from within,” said Brooklyn Community Foundation President and CEO Cecilia Clarke. “Restorative justice offers a powerful tool for transforming the ways our schools value and respect all students, especially Black youth. At this time when our nation is crying out for racial justice and communities of color are reeling from the disproportionate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, schools can be lifelines for young people. But to fulfill this promise, we must redesign them with racial justice and equity at their core.” 

The Brooklyn Restorative Justice Project has helped inform and advance the NYC Department of Education’s goals of implementing restorative justice citywide, while bringing greater attention to the critical need to address anti-Black racism in school discipline. At the start of the project, there were nearly 38,000 suspensions citywide, compared to 70,000 in the 2010-11 school year. However, Black students received 52% of suspensions—even though they represent 26% of the student population, and students with special needs, who are 20% of the overall population, received 38% of all suspensions. In the 2018-19 school year, the total number of suspensions dropped to 32,801—yet profound disparities remained in regard to which students were punished. Black students received nearly 45% of suspensions, and 40% of all suspensions were issued to students with special needs.

“Brooklyn Community Foundation deserves a ton of credit,” said Kenyatte Reid, Executive Director of the Office of Safety and Youth Development within the New York City Department of Education. “They were among the first to partner with us on restorative justice and helped kick start the NYC Department of Education’s restorative justice pilot programs in 150 schools citywide. Their partnership helped make this critical change real for our schools and our students.”

The Brooklyn Restorative Justice Project began in the fall of 2015, when Brooklyn Community Foundation began funding nonprofit organizations to place full-time restorative justice coordinators in a small cohort of Brooklyn secondary schools selected by the Department of Education and the Mayor’s Office. The Foundation enlisted education researcher Dr. Anne Gregory at Rutgers University’s Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology to evaluate the project using a racial justice lens, beginning in the spring of 2015-16 school year and concluding in the 2018-19 school year.

Dr. Gregory designed implementation measurements, established benchmarks, and surveyed progress and setbacks over a 3.5 year period. Schools and partner nonprofit organizations were evaluated based on improvements in school culture and a reduction in conflict, violent infractions, and suspensions. 

“The project has been innovative through its explicit integration of racial justice and restorative justice initiatives,” said Dr. Gregory. “In addition, it has contributed much-needed understanding about the opportunities and challenges of implementation—a vastly under-studied area.”

Dr. Gregory has produced two key documents from her study of the Brooklyn Restorative Justice Project, which are aimed at informing educators and school administrators at large on best practices for racially justice restorative justice implementation: Evaluating Restorative Justice in Three Secondary Schools: Fidelity of Implementation and School Climate, Equity, and Safety Outcomes [Executive Summary Download] and 12 Indicators of Restorative Practices Implementation: A Checklist for Administration [Download]. Previously, Dr. Gregory published Implementing Restorative Justice in Schools: Lessons Learned from Restorative Justice Practitioners in Four Brooklyn Schools [Download], which detailed findings from the Brooklyn Restorative Justice Project’s first year (2016) based upon interviews with restorative justice coordinators...

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