California school suspension ban depends on Restorative Justice: First California Restorative Justice model uses a biblical approach

 

 

By Michael Hernandez

California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) signed a school suspension ban (Senate Bill 419) last week that extends (beyond grades kindergarten through grade five) the state’s school suspension ban for willful defiance (classroom disruption) in grades six through eight in both public and charter schools effective July 1, 2020.  The ban is already in place for all grades in Los Angeles Unified School District.  The signed legislation extends Assembly Bill 420 which went into effect in January, 2015.

The new school discipline law will keep students in classrooms and in schools—providing schools with more money (based on Average Daily Attendance) and is based on restorative justice practices now in place in the schools which were strongly promoted (with threats of loss of federal funding) after former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (the Obama U.S. Department of Education) claimed “racial disparity” impacting African-American suspension rates in schools.

As reported earlier in the Citizens Journal, the data claiming “racial disparity” in school suspensions has been challenged: 

  • Attorney Peter Kirsanow, a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and chair of the board of directors of the Center for New Black Leadership stated (to Breitbart News when interviewed by Dr. Susan Berry): “Just as we’ve seen in every other school district that has reduced or banned student suspensions and expulsion in order to eliminate racial disparities in school discipline; violence and chaos in those school will increase—substantially.” Kirsanow emphasized that without suspensions and expulsions acting as deterrents, “the behavior of disruptive students will get worse.”
  • Gail Herot, a law professor at the University of San Diego and a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, wrote in April 2018 in the National Review and observed that several studies, including a National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) report, shows black students “self-report being in physical fights on school property at a rate more than twice that of white students.” Heriot points to the research that shows children from fatherless households and those from impoverished backgrounds are more likely to be disruptive than other students.
  • Max Eden, a senor fellow with the Manhattan Institute, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in March that the latest “restorative justice” practices are actually lowering test scores and increasing the number of students who feel unsafe at school. “Students who come from a single-family household are twice as likely to get suspended.  Black students are about three times as likely to come from a single-family household.  They’re about three times as likely to get suspended.” Eden said the decision to end clear disciplinary practices, such as consequences for misbehavior, leads not only to a climate of un-safety in schools, but also a negative impact on school achievement.  “In California, when they banned suspensions and tried to introduce restorative justice, the academic effects in math were so bad that it would drag a student down from the 50th percentile to the 32nd

However, despite these concerns for school and classroom discipline—Sacramento lawmakers have moved forward on a suspension ban for willful defiance by continuing to push forward a restorative justice process.  

Restorative Justice practice is not new in California.  In fact, if one examines the earliest model of restorative justice  practice in California they might be surprised.

California lawmakers may have just directed educators to move forward in student discipline on a biblical restorative justice model developed by Ron Claassen in 1982—the Victim Offender Reconciliation Program (VORP) and promoted by the Fresno Pacific University (a Mennonite college) Center for Peacemaking and Conflict studies.   Claassen served as Executive Director from 1984 to 1999.  This biblical model appears to have registered the most success in California—not the more recent secular—or non-biblical approaches to restorative justice that school districts have been using.

VORP (according to its website) “has been bringing victims and offenders together in safe mediation or family group conference settings to permit the offender to take responsibility for his or her action, to make things as right as possible with the victim, and to be clear about future intentions.”

The first Victim Offender Reconciliation Programs were developed in Kitchener, Ontario (Canada) in 1976 and in Elkhart, Indiana in 1978.  In 1990, there were 150 victim offender mediation programs in the U.S. and Canada.  Now, there are more than 1,200 world-wide and has even been adopted in August, 1995 by the United Nations Non-Governmental Organization Working Party on Restorative Justice.

The Fresno program has been administrated by Fresno Pacific University Center for Peacemaking and Conflict studies since 2002.  By 2010, California had 19 programs—most in Northern California—but also included such agencies as Interface (Oxnard) and Restorative Justice Task Force of Santa Barbara.

Ron Claassen’s Peacemaking Model shows a circle that has such terms (on the outside): as “love,”  “caring,” “valuing” and “a commitment to be constructive.”   Inside the circle is the term “forgiveness is mutual recognition” that:  1) injustices are recognized  2) equity is restored  and 3) future interactions are clear.

Claassen’s introduction to his Peacemaking Model includes such terms:  as “peace-shalom”; “love-agape”; “forgiveness”; “confession”; “atonement”; “repentance”; and “trust.”   His core premise for restorative justice is in “making things as right as possible.”  He uses almost 40 scripture verses throughout his model to describe the restorative justice process.  Claassen contrasts “agape” (the Greek word for the highest love possible) with “not agape.”

Claassen explains the two-way nature of forgiveness by quoting from 1 John 1:9:  “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” and then quotes Matthew 6: 12 and 14:  “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors…For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”

(Editor’s Note:  To see the complete 18-page paper entitled “A Peacemaking Model: A Biblical Perspective” written by Ron Classen in 2003 go to:  http://www.rpforschools.net/articles/Religious/Claassen%202003%20A%20Peacemaking%20Model%20-%20A%20Biblical%20Perspective.pdf.)

Claassen states 12 principles in his restorative justice model which was originally released as 11 principles in a paper presented May 1995 and revised on May 1996.  His Restorative Justice – Fundamental Principles can be viewed at:

http://restorativejusticediscipline.com/library/RJ_Prin_w_Copyright.pdf.

The Fresno Restorative Justice model was closely reviewed by 20 leaders of Fresno County’s leading governmental agencies and organizations on July 24, 1998 which included:  the Probation Department, Courts, County Administrative Office, District Attorney’s Office, Public Defender’s Office, Department of Human Services, City and County Schools, Fresno City Police Department, and the Sheriff’s Department—all who endorsed the development of a community restorative justice plan.

On Nov. 19, 1998 approximately 100 community leaders authorized a leadership group to provide direction for a “broad based systemic change based on restorative practice” in Fresno.  What was developed was “Restorative Justice:  A Framework for Fresno.”  (Editor:  See http://www.iirp.edu/pdf/bc04_fresno.pdf.)

Fresno Pacific University’s Center for Peacemaking and Conflict Studies offers students a master’s degree (50 units) and a Restorative Justice certificate (15 units) that includes a Peacemaking Institute, Victim Offender Reconciliation Program (VORP), and Conflict and Peacemaking Across Cultures.   Two 8-hour VORP mediation trainings are held annually with the next one scheduled for Sept. 21 (online registration is closed) and again on Feb. 8.  Cost of the one-day seminar is $50 dollars for students and $100 for non-students.  For more information call Center Director Dr. Peter Smith at  559-453-33472 or view: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TGKFOZOXE70&feature=youtu.be

Three books on restorative justice available from Fresno Pacific University authors (on Amazon) are: 

  • “Making Things Right: Activities that Teach Restorative Justice, Conflict Resolution, Mediation, and Discipline That Restores” (includes 32 Detailed Lesson Plans with Prepared Projections and Handouts) Second Edition by  Ron Claassenand Roxanne Harvin Claassen (1996 copyright with second edition printed 2015);
  • “Discipline that Restores: Strategies to Create Respect, Cooperation, and Responsibility in the Classroom” (Oct. 26, 2008) by Ron Claassen and Roxanne Claassen;
  • “Story-Formed Pathways to Peace: Headline News from Genesis, Jesus and Today” by Dalton Reimer(2018).

(Editor:  See link to https://www.citizensjournal.us/california-school-suspension-ban-puts-safety-of-kids-last/.)

Note: The CA plan does NOT utilize biblical restorative justice.

Michael Hernandez, Co-Founder of the Citizens Journal—Ventura County’s online news service; editor of the History Makers Report and founder of History Makers International—a community nonprofit serving youth and families in Ventura County, is a former Southern California daily newspaper journalist and religion and news editor. He has worked 25 years as a middle school teacher in Monrovia and Los Angeles Unified School Districts.  Mr. Hernandez can be contacted by email at [email protected].


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