Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Diana Greene has committed to ensuring that principals and administrators at each school receive restorative justice training by the next school year.
At Monday’s Interfaith Coalition for Action Reconciliation and Empowerment (ICARE) Nehemiah Assembly at Abyssinian Missionary Baptist Church, more than 1,500 people from 38 Duval County religious congregations joined to push elected officials on criminal justice reforms.
Among their priorities is expanding the use of restorative justice in public schools. Restorative justice is a non-punitive approach that involves collective decisions by victims, offenders, and their community.
“We’re going to strengthen that assurance that restorative justice practices will be an activity, not as an afterthought, but something that comes to the forefront”, said Greene.
ICARE co-chair Bruce Haven said every year the organization gauges members’ concern through listening sessions and school discipline has consistently been a priority issue.
“So what we normally do is we then research the problem to find a solution, one that’s worked elsewhere and has been effective, as well as also good cost-wise,” he said. “Restorative is an international program that had been used in schools and communities and so it made sense to apply that in Duval schools.”
In addition to working with Sheriff Mike Williams and State Attorney Melissa Nelson to give civil citations rather than arrest youth who are first time nonviolent offenders, Haven said ICARE has been encouraging the school district to use restorative justice practices.
Duval’s public schools began experimenting with the model in 2010, after ICARE recommended it during that year’s annual ICARE assembly. The use of restorative justice practices has since steadily grown. According to Duval County Public Schools data, between 2017 and 2018, the number of restorative justice events rose from 11,060 to 12,774.
Still, Haven said restorative justice practices aren’t used in the schools widely enough.
“The reality is at the end of last year, the reports show that only about 14% of the cases that were eligible for restorative justice were being used throughout the school system,” he said.
Restorative justice practices are among several different intervention approaches the district uses. Others include suspension, parent conferences, and before or after school detention. To encourage the use of restorative justice, ICARE asked Greene if she’d publicly commit to a set of agreements.
Among them is that she will ensure that principals and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support (PBIS) administrative teams in each school are trained in restorative practices beginning next school year.
Green said many of schools already have had the training and it wouldn’t cost the district more to train the rest.
“We have our own trainers inside the school district and so really the investment is time, when will we find the time to have all of them trained,” she said.
Greene's commitment stopped short of ICARE's request to train all bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and other contracted staff.
“One, we don’t know, would that be additional cost to the school district to request that they have this training,” she said. “And two, it’s a very high turnover position.”
Haven said if contractors aren't willing to provide the training, the school should replace them.
“They’re other bus companies, there are other food service companies, there are other sub-provider companies besides Kelly Services,” he said. “They may not be the cheapest, but we don’t think our children's education should be farmed out necessarily just to the cheapest contract.”
Greene said while she can’t guarantee those contractors will get the training, she will make the request it. Greene also agreed to observe and learn about whole school restorative justice practices with members of ICARE and provide reports on restorative practices and the number of school staff trained in schools.