Bullying and Restorative Practices

Bullying, a persistent issue in U.S. schools, has been reported by up to 45% of youths, either as victims, bullies, or both, occurring predominantly in schools. Notably, most bullying incidents go unreported, and chronic victimization, two or more times per month, is estimated to be part of 15 to 20 percent of all cases.

The impact of bullying extends beyond the victims and perpetrators, affecting overall school climates and student learning. Schools traditionally resort to punitive responses like suspensions or expulsions, but these methods often exacerbate the problem. Some researchers advocate for Restorative Practices(RP) as an alternative solution, arguing that it can mend relationships and change communities more effectively than traditional punishment. RP involves meetings between the victim and the bully to facilitate understanding and healing, but some critics caution that this could intimidate victims.

Importantly, not all conflicts represent bullying; bullying occurs only when the power balance is heavily skewed. Restorative Practices may also play a role in reducing racial disparities in disciplinary actions. Minority students, particularly Black students, disproportionately receive more suspensions and expulsions, contributing to the “school-to-prison” pipeline. Factors such as increased surveillance in schools with large minority populations, vaguely defined offenses, and possible implicit bias among staff could contribute to these disparities.

RP has shown potential in addressing these disciplinary disparities. Research has indicated that RP can enhance student-teacher relations, decrease referrals for misbehavior, and potentially reduce racial discipline gaps. While the results are mixed, the general trend favors RP. Studies have shown a decrease in suspension rates among all student categories and narrowing racial discipline gaps following RP implementation.

However, it’s important to note that the effectiveness of RP can vary based on the degree of its implementation within schools, with more comprehensive applications tending to show more significant results. There’s also evidence that teacher-student relationships and communication styles can impact discipline disparities. Despite some promising findings, further research is required to fully understand the impacts of RP on bullying and racial disparities in school discipline.

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