On October 13, 2009 the San Franciso Unified School District unanimously voted to “develop a plan designed to replace some student suspensions with more “restorative” repercussions.”  Instead of simply suspending students who violate school rules, restorative interventions will be used.

Restorative justice interventions are especially relevant and necessary for youth.  Who can deny that childhood and teen years are a time of learning and discovery?  We have “ages of maturity” like turning 18 and 21 in the United States as markers of our ability to figure out how the world works and our place in it.  Of course sometimes youth (as well as adults) will make mistakes and do things that hurt others and themselves.  If we want people to learn from their mistakes we need to give the opportunity to refect and engage meaningfully in problem solving.

When we punish and criticize, we set people up to be defensive.  People, especially youth, who are defensive are not as reception to change and growth.  And who doesn’t get defensive when they are criticized?  It is normal to defend ourselves when our value and worth is attacked.  It is a sign of health actually for youth to be defensive.  It shows they have self-worth and care about themselves.

In 2001 a short article was published on my personal experience in a restorative conference when my then 8th graders son was assaulted at school. At the time of the incident, I was conducting a juvenile restorative pilot for the Honolulu Police Department and realized that our family too needed a restorative intervention.  I was able to arrange one, and was a remarkable experience to sit in a circle with my son, husband, the offending boy, his father, the school principal of the elementary school that both boys had previously attended, and a kind facilitator.  After the restorative intervention my son and the boy had no problems again in their relationship and our family had new found understanding for he and his family.  Community was built that day that almost 10 years now.

Other school districts should follow San Francisco’s example, and the example of England’s, Sefton Council, which has been using restorative interventions with tremendous success for sometime.