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Brooklyn Restorative Justice Project: A New Approach to School Discipline

Last year we launched an ambitious leadership initiative to change the way children are disciplined in our schools. With $1.6 million committed over four years, through our Brooklyn Restorative Justice Project we are bringing nonprofit experts into four pilot schools to transform the way students, teachers and leaders respond to harmful incidents on campus.

We’re working with the NYC Department of Education and the Mayor’s Office to make “restorative justice” the norm in Brooklyn and beyond. We hope to learn from the schools and nonprofits in our project, and are working with an evaluator to understand what works and why.  

Over the next few weeks we will introduce you to our Brooklyn Restorative Justice Project nonprofit partners and coordinators who are on the frontlines of this groundbreaking work. And over the next four years you’ll be able to learn alongside us as we develop our model and in the process help students learn and thrive in stronger school environments.

➤ Read the first blog post in a new series from our Restorative Justice partners: "Tackling the School-to-Prison Pipeline with Transformative Justice" by Nicole Lavonne Smith, Restorative Justice Coordinator at Sweet River Consulting.

It’s widely reported that traditional disciplinary methods—detentions, suspensions, and in-school arrests—overwhelmingly involve students of color and students with special needs. In New York City schools, black and Hispanic youth account for 70% of students, yet represent over 90% of all suspensions. Students with special needs make up 12% of the student population, yet receive a third of all suspensions.

These punishments carry the added effect of keeping students out of the classroom and increasingly disconnected from the school culture—leading to greater absentee rates, more interactions with police, and ultimately higher drop outs. It's part of a disturbing trend often referred to as the School to Prison Pipeline.

However, pioneering school districts across the country are proving that schools thrive when disciplinary response is viewed through a restorative lens. Restorative Justice programs change the culture of the school. The approach focuses on empowering everyone affected by a harmful incident to decide collectively how to repair the harm, restore trust, and build respectful relationships that recognize the dignity and humanity of everyone involved. 

We first presented officials at the DOE and the Mayor’s Office with our goal to invest in restorative justice in Brooklyn schools in late 2014. Since then the NYC City Council has committed $2.4 million to restorative justice city-wide and the Mayor’s Leadership Team on School Climate and Discipline built it into their extensive "Safety with Dignity" report and recommendations to the Mayor.

“Brooklyn Community Foundation deserves a ton of credit. They were among the first to bring a plan for restorative justice to us, and kick started the Department of Education’s restorative justice pilot programs that will soon be introduced in 150 schools citywide. They led the way on a critical change for our schools and our students.” 

- Kenyatte Reid, Senior Director of School Culture and Climate at NYC Department of Education 

Restorative Justice is the next big thing for Brooklyn schools. And we want to make sure it works for every student by building a model that is racially just and meets the needs of LGBTQ and special needs students.

We’re just getting started and we can’t wait to share our progress.

Kaberi Banerjee-Murthy

Vice President of Programs
“Brooklyn Community Foundation deserves a ton of credit. They were among the first to bring a plan for restorative justice to us, and kick started the Department of Education’s restorative justice pilot programs that will soon be introduced in 150 schools citywide. They led the way on a critical change for our schools and our students.” - Kenyatte Reid, Senior Director of School Culture and Climate at NYC Department of Education