Webutuck’s long journey toward restorative justice

WEBUTUCK — Despite the global pandemic, Webutuck Director of Student Services and Curriculum and Instruction Jen Eraca shared the district’s success in partnering with Ramapo for Children to receive restorative justice training at the Webutuck Board of Education (BOE) meeting on Monday, June 28.

Happy to shed a light on its journey toward restorative justice, Eraca began with a refresher of how everything began. Upon her hiring at Webutuck, Eraca said she knew there had been an inquiry in the district about restorative justice and Webutuck had been cited for the high number of students suspended. Listing some of the steps taken between January and August 2020, she said, Webutuck evaluated its programs and their effectiveness; analyzing Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS) programming, infractions and referrals; and examining its code of conduct.

Eraca said there are three kinds of justice as it relates to education: retributive (justice rooted in punishment), rehabilitative (justice rooted in the offender’s rehabilitation) and restorative (justice rooted in the reparation of harm). 

Retributive justice focuses on the offense while rehabilitative justice focuses on “fixing” the offender. Restorative justice focuses on the relationship between those involved and asks the offending student to “make things right.” As they apply to Webutuck, Eraca delineated how each type of justice and their corresponding components are applied at Webutuck’s three schools.

Presenting the steps taken between September 2020 through June 2020, Eraca explained Webutuck contracted with Ramapo to receive restorative justice training. A Disproportionality Committee was formed and teachers, administrators, school psychologists and other staff were trained in functional behavior analysis and behavior intervention plans with behavioral specialists. 

Webutuck administrators, teachers and community were also trained in a targeted skills group by the New York State Education Department (NYSED) to become acquainted with data points related to suspension.

Restorative justice, Eraca explained, is considered a set of principles and practices used to build community, respond to harm and conflict and provide individual circles of support for students. This is created by building, maintaining and restoring relationships in the school community, she said, “to create an environment where all students can thrive.”

Eraca said restorative justice addresses and discusses the needs of the school community; builds healthy relationships between educators and students; reduces and helps prevent and improve harmful behavior; repairs harm and restores positive relationships; and resolves conflict and holds individuals and groups accountable. 

Among the drawbacks, restorative justice requires engagement from all involved parties and a pledge of time and money from the district and its administrators.

Webutuck’s training with Ramapo consisted of 18 Webutuck staff members (including administrators, instructional and PBIS leads and district social workers) who were introduced to the key concepts and principles of restorative justice. 

Totaling 144 hours, the training took place during four virtual workshops and consisted of three main tiers focused on community and building circles; strategies to address harm and conflict and to develop restorative consequences; and reentry circles and the requisite adult social-emotional learning skills necessary.

Soliciting feedback from participating staff, Eraca said the consensus was all 18 staff members believed in restorative justice and were clear that it wasn’t a turnkey initiative, but instead required training for all staff. They agreed it was a long-term investment that needs to be phased in and needs both the administration’s support and a change in mind set. They also agreed that a community/parent buy-in is critical to its success.

 Eraca said they would continue debriefing with their stakeholders to determine interest for potential implementation of restorative justice practices. Webutuck’s Disproportionality Committee has already started to incorporate the takeaways into district-wide policies, and the targeted skills group will continue to utilize NYSED data to observe patterns in discipline and educational trends.

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