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Resident seeks to implement restorative justice program in Oxford schools

Each year, hundreds of films are screened at the annual Oxford Film Festival. Some make people laugh, some make people cry and some, like the documentary film, “CIRCLES,” shown at the 2018 OFF in February, can bring people together to invoke change.

The film presented the story of restorative justice as instituted at Ralph J. Bunche High School in West Oakland, CA, and as applied to the life of Eric Butler, the RJ coordinator at Bunche, and his son, Tre. During the screening, an Impact Team made up of people connected with the film, held workshops and discussion panels during the film festival.

The message they brought resonated with a lot of people,” said Susie Adams, an Oxford resident and parent of an Oxford High School student who made a 10-minute presentation to the Oxford School District Board of Trustees Monday, asking them to consider implementing a restorative justice program in the district.

More than 30 people attended the meeting Monday to show their support of a Restorative Justice program.

After seeing the films, Adams helped form an informal group, the Restorative Justice Action Group, which has begun discussing ideas about bringing a restorative justice program to the OSD.

“At this time, we are not requesting anything from the board but simply wish to introduce the ideas and inform the board about what we are doing,” Adams said Monday.

Restorative justice strives to take a non-punitive approach to wrongdoing. It seeks to get at the causes of behavior problems, repair damaged relationships and harm, and prevent recurrence of problems. It empowers students to resolve conflicts by bringing them together in small groups that usually include those involved in the dispute to talk about what the problem is, air grievances and look for conflict resolution possibilities.

The program is being used in a growing number of school districts across the nation.

“Restorative justice offers a fresh approach to building, maintaining, and repairing relationships,” Adams said. “Its role in discipline differs depending on how it is implemented in a particular setting. For example, in many schools, restorative justice does not replace punitive approaches to discipline in all cases but complements them.”

According to Adams, benefits of implementing a restorative justice program have been shown to include: reduced fights, bullying and other forms of aggression; reduced number of expulsions and suspensions; reduced referrals of students to the juvenile justice system; contribute to closing the achievement gap; improve equity, student satisfaction and academic performance; increase recruitment and retention of highly qualified teachers from underrepresented groups; increase safety; reduce students’ anxiety; and more.

Adams said if the district shows interest, the RJAG will invite the “CIRCLES” Impact team to return to Oxford to lead one or more workshops for all interested stakeholders by the end of the summer.

“This introductory workshop would help people learn more about restorative justice gauge interest, and gather input from stakeholders, including hearing people’s concerns,” Adams said. “It may also include identifying issues in our district and brainstorming about how restorative justice might address some of them.”

Adams said if the community shows support of bringing a restorative justice program to the OSD, a team would be formed consisting of representatives from the school board, teachers, school staff members and more to design a restorative justice program tailored to the OSD. Any necessary funding would come from fundraising efforts by the RJAG.

For more information on the RJAG, email Adams at sbadams29@gmail.com.