by Kristina Hulvershorn

What does restorative practices have to do with equity?  In a word everything.

I wanted to share a concept from our restorative practices trainings that might help clarify the connection.

Every school and organization has boundaries.  Human beings need and thrive when we know the boundaries and we feel that they are fair.  Every school’s boundaries are slightly different…but almost every school in our geographical region has one thing in common: disproportionate discipline.  We issue harsher punishments on students of color. Specifically, black boys but also on black girls and  latinx boys and girls. But, channeling LeVar Burton, don’t take my word for it. Hit the books. Brilliant scholars have written extensively on this and you can even check out data from individual schools.

So, I ask participants to explain what behaviors fall outside of those boundaries of acceptable behavior.  Swearing? Fighting? Disrespect?  Dressing out of uniform? Consider all of the gray areas in each of these categories.  What exactly is a swear word? Is horseplay considered fighting?  As we get in the weeds with that I then ask participants to consider,

If behaving, thinking, or acting out of the box is what lands our kids in a realm of harsher discipline or worse, the school to prison pipeline, it’s time to consider the box itself. Specifically

Who made that box?  Think about it. Who designed the norms of your school or organization? Let’s go ahead and name it.  Odds are the box was made representing only white, middle-class values.   If the creation of the box didn’t involve the people you serve, OF COURSE, you will struggle to see all students or community members succeed.  If it doesn’t explicitly involve support structures (financial, mental health, transportation, etc) then, OF COURSE, you will struggle to see all students or community members succeed.  Only when we come to think of the boundaries that govern our school and organizational norms as something that needs to be reflective and inclusive of many viewpoints and many cultures, we will begin the work of addressing inequity in meaningful ways.