Infusing principles of restorative justice into school discipline

Phoenix Union High School District-ASU Principal Professional Development Pilot

Principal investigator:
Award amount:
$62,351
Originating sponsor:
Arizona Board of Regents
Direct sponsor:
Phoenix Union School District
Grant start date:
September 1, 2016
Grant end date:
May 31, 2018

The challenge:

Studies show that in K–12 schools throughout the U.S., students of color and students with disabilities face disciplinary suspension at disproportionate rates, primarily due to inequitable and punitive zero-tolerance policies and practices. Discipline data for the Phoenix Union High School District in Phoenix, Arizona, like most districts throughout the state, indicate disproportionality that mirrors national trends. The PUHSD governing board sought to address the issue by exploring and implementing concepts of restorative justice in their discipline policies. Restorative justice is a collection of mindsets and practices that center on building community and strengthening relationships. When harm occurs within a school community, restorative discipline holds individuals accountable for their actions while collectively repairing the harm and restoring relationships.

The approach:

Principal Investigator Carl Hermanns, whose work focuses on issues of equity and leadership, has worked with several school districts in identifying and addressing disproportionate discipline. In the 2016–17 school year, Hermanns collaborated with PUHSD restorative justice expert Elma Dzanic to create and co-present a series of full-day professional development sessions for district administrators and school leadership teams. These sessions:

  • Provided national and local overviews of inequitable discipline.
  • Demonstrated why it is crucial to both student and school success that inequality is addressed.
  • Explored how discipline policies can be transformed to create more equitable and supportive school cultures, with increased engagement and success for students and teachers.

Hermanns also participated in district-level meetings and planning sessions led by Dzanic to devise a model and long-term plan for systematic, districtwide implementation of restorative discipline practices rooted in the concepts of restorative justice.

Findings and impact:

Based on the work of Dzanic and Hermanns, the Phoenix Union district is fully implementing restorative discipline programs in two pilot schools and providing training for district personnel at all PUHSD schools. Hermanns is continuing his work with the district for 2017–18 under a no-cost extension of the grant.

At the midpoint of this first year of implementation, the pilot schools are assessing progress toward their disciplinary goals and adjusting as necessary. Administrators are working to align the district’s structures, policies and incentives with the restorative concepts and practices that its schools are beginning to implement. Hermanns says the implementation shows pockets of solid success as well as various challenges that are being addressed systematically, as the shift in school discipline and culture evolves. He anticipates that with the sustained support of district leaders and the governing board, restorative justice concepts and practices will replace more punitive, suspension-based policies and practices, resulting in increased student and teacher success.