The story of a model restorative school: creative response to conflict at MS 217 in Queens, NY

Published date26 April 2022
Date26 April 2022
Subject MatterHealth & social care,Criminology & forensic psychology,Aggression,conflict & peace,Sociology,Gender studies,Gender violence,Political sociology,policy & social change,Social conflicts,War/peace
AuthorPriscilla Prutzman,Elizabeth Roberts,Tara Fishler,Tricia Jones
The story of a model restorative school:
creative response to conict at MS 217 in
Queens, NY
Priscilla Prutzman, Elizabeth Roberts, Tara Fishler and Tricia Jones
Purpose Restorative practice programsin the USA and Western elementary and secondary schools
have been the focus of intensive, large scale field research that reports positive impacts on school
climate, pro-social studentbehavior and aggressive behavior. This paper aims to contributeto a gap in
the research by reporting a case study of transformation of an urban middle school in a multi-year
implementationof restorative practices.
Design/methodology/approach This paper reports how Creative Response to Conflict (CRC)
supported the transformation of Middle School 217,in Queens, NY, from a school with one of the highest
suspension rates in New YorkCity to a model restorative school. CRC’s model, which incorporates the
themes of cooperation,communication, affirmation, conflict resolution,mediation, problem-solving, bias
awareness, bullying prevention and intervention, social-emotional learning and restorative practices,
helpedshift the perspective and practice of the entire schoolcommunity from punitive to restorative.
Findings Implementationof a full school advisory program usingrestorative circles for all meetings and
classes and development of a 100% respect program committing all school community members to
dignified and respectful treatment aided the transformation. Key to MS 217’s success was the
collaboration of multiple non-profit organizations for provision of peer mediation training, after-school
follow-up work, staff coaching and preventative cyberbullying training through the Social Media-tors!
Research limitations/implications Challenges to the restorative practices implementation are
reviewedwith attention to the implementation online duringCOVID-19.
Originality/value Next steps in the program post-COVID are articulated as a bestpractice model for
other schoolsinterested in adopting MS 217’s commitment,creativity and community-buildingto become
a model restorativeschool.
Keywords Restorative justice, Conflict resolution, Violence prevention,
Interrupting school to prison pipeline, Restorative practices, Restorative schools
Paper type Research paper
Research on restorative practices in schools
Restorative practices programs for schools highlight accountability in a system of non-
punitive reconciliation and community building. These programs help students think in
terms of the rights of all and advocate on behalf of community members whose rights have
been infringed (Jones, 2012). These programs can have profound influence on children at
the time in their lives when identity formation is key and their notion of belonging to and
being responsible to a community is forming (Lane, 2005/2006). As the National Education
Policy Center stated in itsrecent policy paper (2020, January, p. 3):
We view RJE [Restorative Justice in Education] as a comprehensive, whole school approach to
shifting school culture in ways that prioritize relational pedagogies, justice and equity, resilience-
fostering, and well-being. Guided by a set of restorative values and principles (e.g., dignity,
Priscilla Prutzman,
Elizabeth Roberts and
Tara Fishler are all based at
the Creative Response to
Conflict, Suffern, New York,
USA. Tricia Jones is
Professor at the
Department of
Communication and Social
Influence, Temple
University, Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania, USA and
Director of the Center for
Conflict Management and
Media Impact, Klein
College of Media and
Communication, Temple
University, Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania, USA.
Received 23 February 2022
Revised 25 February 2022
Accepted 25 February 2022
CRC is grateful to the entire
Middle School 217
community students,
teachers, staff and
administrators for their warm
welcome, open-mindedness
and hard work on the journey to
becoming a restorative school.
The authors thank the NYC
Department of Education and
ACR/JAMS for funding their
work at the school.
PAGE 346 jJOURNAL OF AGGRESSION, CONFLICTAND PEACE RESEARCH jVOL. 14 NO. 4 2022, pp. 346-362, ©Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 1759-6599 DOI 10.1108/JACPR-02-2022-0690
respect, accountability, and fairness), RJE practices are both proactive and responsive in
nurturing healthy relationships, repairing harm, transforming conflict, and promoting justice and
The strongest impetus for restorative practice programs in schools started after 2000 in the
UK, Australia and New Zealand. In June 2003, Rigby and Thomas (2004), cited in
Wearmouth et al. (2007a,2007b) conducted a study of 50 primary and secondary schools
throughout Australia to assess the impact of restorative practices programs. They reported
a variety of implementation practices, noting the difficulty of full school implementation. A
national evaluation of restorative justice practices in 32 schools in nine pilot areas across
England and Wales has provided encouraging evidence (Bitel, 2004). The research
involved surveys from more than 5,000 pupils and 1,150 staff, as well as more than 600
individual interviews with key stakeholders. Data on school performance indicators were
gathered at the beginning of the evaluation in 2002 and at the end in 2004. Before the
restorative justice programs, the schools had high levels of victimization and behavioral
problems. Youth Offending Teams were then given the responsibility of implementing
restorative practices. After the programs, 95% of all conflicts had been resolved through
mediation and conferencing and there were significant reductions in the levels of bullying
and victimization.
In Scotland, restorative practices were implemented in 2004 to provide support for students
with behavior problems (Kane et al., 2008). As McCluskey et al. (2008) noted, there was
criticism about theoretical models of restorative justice originating from the criminal justice
system being applied to educational settings. Later, the Scottish educational model of
restorative practices was elaborated as a whole school initiative and researched in a pilot
study included 18 schools with comprehensive data collection, including surveys,
interviews, observations and behavioral incident records. Results indicated that
commitment to restorative practices was critical in delivering positiveoutcomes of reduction
of playground incidents, discipline referrals, expulsion and use of external behavior support
(McCluskey, 2010).
In the USA, the past decade has seena heightened appreciation for restorative practices in
K-12 schools. A key interest has been in the impact of the programs on suspension and
expulsion rates. Comparing restorative practice interventions in 22 schools and 22
comparison schools, Augustine et al. (2018) found suspensions and days lost to
suspension decreased more significantly in the program schools than in the control schools
and in program schools students wereless likely to be repeatedly suspended.
Racial disparity in use of suspensions and expulsions is a critical concern and restorative
practices has been suggested as a way to address this problem. In Oakland and Los
Angeles, where the districts are implementing broad school discipline reform and
restorative initiatives, suspension gaps between Black and White students have narrowed
(Hashim et al.,2018). However, there is concern about how well restorative practice
programs address implicit bias and cultural insensitivity, and hence, how much can be
expected from restorative practices in decreasing suspension disparity (Schiff, 2018).
Lustick and her colleagues (2020) interviewed teachers and students to discover the
successes and challenges of implementing community-building circles with attention to
equity and inclusion. They found that both teachers and students experience these
practices as transformative when enough trust is established to share openly; however,
more training is necessary for this to be consistent across schools and classrooms.
Another critical goal of restorative practice programs has been improving school climate
especially in terms of creating supportive safe space for students targeted with bullying. In
Oakland, data from staff surveys revealed almost 70% of respondents felt restorative
practices helped to improve school climate (Jain et al.,2014). Acosta et al. (2019,p.880)
reported on their research arguing:

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