Four Brooklyn middle and high schools will implement pioneering restorative justice practices next school year thanks to a new pilot program from Brooklyn Community Foundation in partnership with the New York City Department of Education and Mayor de Blasio’s Leadership Team on School Climate and Discipline.
Brooklyn Community Foundation is leading the effort to develop a model for school-based disciplinary reform that can be scaled across the entire New York City school system. The Foundation has committed four years of funding for the project, and with its city agency partners, aims to foster effective, sustainable, and racially just restorative justice programs.
Brooklyn Community Foundation defines restorative justice as a philosophy and practice that empowers all affected by an incident—including victims, offenders, and their supporters—to decide collectively how to reconcile and repair harm. In schools across the country, restorative justice programs have been highly successful at reducing suspensions, arrests, and incidents of violence.
The pilot program will focus on reforming disciplinary approaches that disproportionately and unfairly impact young people 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—in some Brooklyn schools, they account for upwards of 90% of suspensions.
“At the end of the next four years, we hope to have a new model that can change the way our schools address discipline, positively impacting students for the rest of their lives,” said Brooklyn Community Foundation President Cecilia Clarke. “We know that suspensions don’t just take children out of the classroom temporarily—they often factor into students dropping out of school or getting involved in the criminal justice system, especially among young people of color. We want schools to be safe and supportive environments for all students. Restorative justice is about reducing conflict, building community, and showing our students that they are valuable assets and agents in their schools and neighborhoods.”
The program will launch this September in Science Skills Center High School in Downtown Brooklyn, Ebbets Field Middle School in Crown Heights, the School for Democracy and Leadership in East Flatbush, and the Rachel Carson High School for Coastal Studies in Coney Island. Schools were selected by the New York City Department of Education in consultation with the Mayor’s Leadership Team. Each school’s leadership has demonstrated a strong interest in and openness to bringing restorative practices to their schools.
The pilot program’s effectiveness and impact will be measured by indicators that include reduced disciplinary incidents, improved attendance, higher rates of grade passing and/or credit accumulation, as well as positive trends on relevant Learning Environment Survey measures.
“This Administration wholeheartedly believes we can have both safer schools and fewer arrests and suspensions,” said Vincent Schiraldi, Senior Advisor at the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice and the Co-chair of the Leadership Team on School Climate and Discipline. “When students struggle, we need to support them to come together and work out a resolution.
Restorative Justice Practices are based on the notion that we can involve students in the creation of a school environment that is not only safe, but one that dignifies students and improves learning.”
“Our students learn best when they are in safe and supportive environments where they are encouraged to resolve conflicts peacefully and thoughtfully,” added Lois Herrera, the Chief Executive Officer for the Office of Safety and Youth Development, New York City Department of Education. “Restorative Justice Practices provide the opportunity to engage students in meaningful dialogue and build community. It also provides a way for students to prevent and address conflicts, understand the ramifications of their behavior and repair any harm that may be caused. I am confident this partnership will result in improved school climate for the students at these schools."
This summer, through a competitive RFP process, the Foundation will select up to four nonprofit organizations with expertise in restorative justice, youth services, and/or conflict mediation to design and deliver culturally-responsive and racially just restorative justice models. Nonprofits will place a full-time restorative justice coordinator in each school starting next school year. In August, the NYC Department of Education will provide a weeklong training at each school on restorative approaches for safety personnel, instructional staff, support staff, and school leadership.
Brooklyn Community Foundation is the first and only public grant making charity dedicated to New York City’s largest borough. In 2015, the Foundation is launching a 3-part strategy focused on Brooklyn’s youth, neighborhoods, and nonprofit sector. The restorative justice partnership is a priority program through the Foundation’s new 10-year Invest in Youth initiative, which aims to improve opportunities and outcomes for vulnerable youth in Brooklyn.
About Brooklyn Community Foundation
Brooklyn Community Foundation is on a mission to spark lasting social change, mobilizing people, capital, and expertise for a fair and just Brooklyn. Since its founding in 2009, the Foundation and its donors have provided over $20 million in grants to more than 300 nonprofits throughout the borough, bolstering vital programs and services while responding to urgent community needs and opportunities. In 2014, following a six-month borough wide community engagement project, Brooklyn Insights, the Foundation unveiled a new strategic action plan focused on youth, neighborhood strength, nonprofit capacity, and racial justice.
Liane Stegmaier, Director of Communications