One Los Angeles school has experienced a “tectonic” decrease in suspensions, with more L.A. schools preparing to follow suit, as a result of the restorative disciplinary efforts of Joseph Luciani, a 2013 master’s graduate of the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University.
Luciani’s work received wide recognition in early 2015 as a result of a Jan. 10 Associated Press article published by more than 50 media outlets nationwide, from Hawaii to Florida – including the San Francisco Chronicle, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Houston Chronicle, Miami Sun Times, and the New York Times. It even appeared in the United Kingdom, published by the Daily Mail, and in the Philippines, published by Yahoo News (Luciani is visible at right in the fourth picture in this posting.)
“At Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second largest, the shift has been tectonic,” wrote
Five years ago, students were scolded with 74,765 days of suspension; last year, they received 8,351, an 89 percent decrease.” Luciani, a Belgian whose native language is French, pioneered the shift in disciplinary climate at Augustus Hawkins High School located in “one of LA’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods,” according to AP. At Augustus Hawkins, suspensions dropped 44 percent from one year to the next.
With schools struggling to keep kids learning in their classroom rather than in detention hall, it’s no surprise that restorative justice is a serious and worthy option to replace the old-school, “you’re-outta-here” disciplinary model. Restorative justice techniques, with an emphasis on intervention, communication, and the emotional needs of the student and school community, are receiving growing attention within educational systems, primarily because they work. (EMU profiled Luciani in a June 2014 news article, “CJP grad helps pilot restorative justice program in nation’s second largest school system.”)
That widespread media interest comes hard on the heels of a groundbreaking endorsement. In January 2014, the U.S. Department of Education published a 27-page report, Guiding Principles: A Resource Guide for Improving School Climate and Discipline, along with a “Dear Colleague” letter, which referred to “the development of alternative disciplinary approaches such as restorative justice.”
EMU is home to the nation’s first graduate program, led by education professor Kathy Evans, specifically focusing on restorative justice in school settings. Since 2012, the Zehr Institute for Restorative Justice, co-directed by restorative justice experts Howard Zehr and Carl Stauffer, has provided education and training through web-based and onsite training.