The federal funds will be used to conduct a pilot project on how to make schools safer, primarily through the use of “restorative justice” case conferences, in which students, teachers, and families work together to resolve conflicts and repair any harm caused by misbehavior.
The program is part of a federal initiative designed to study and evaluate the best methods to make schools safe, including security measures, behavioral and mental health services, anti-bullying programs, and a range of other factors.
The Central Falls School District will work with schools in Westerly, and two charter districts, Blackstone Valley Prep and the Greene School, to launch the program. The Urban Institute will lead the project’s evaluation, in partnership with The Providence Plan.
The project is funded as part of the Comprehensive School Safety Initiative, for which Congress appropriated $75 million to the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) at the U.S. Department of Justice. NIJ launched a unique program, “Developing Knowledge about What Works to Make Schools Safe,” to provide grants to local education agencies to improve school safety while rigorously testing innovative approaches.
“I’m very proud of the partnership the city has developed with the Central Falls School District during my administration. Being awarded this grant will allow us to continue our joint vision to keep our students in a safe learning environment, while they receive an education,” said Central Falls Mayor James Diossa.
“This project represents a unique opportunity to demonstrate how we can keep children safe in our schools,” said Central Falls School District Supt. Dr. Frances Gallo. “Beyond the academic skills that students acquire, schools must also teach care, kindness, and empathy.
“In doing so,”Gallo said, “schools must be receptive to embracing students who make mistakes, be willing to have uncomfortable conversations when they do, and teach students how to make amends in meaningful and deep ways. We strongly believe that this project will improve the ‘climate and culture’ in our schools and that these results will extend into the City of Central Falls as well.”
Restorative justice is a process that brings together victims and offenders, enabling everyone affected by a particular incident to play a part in repairing the harm and finding a positive way forward. The process doesn’t let offenders escape punishment or get off lightly, but rather provides a chance for offenders to face the consequences of their actions and assists them in taking steps to help heal the harm they have caused.
The pilot program is tentatively expected to run from January 1, 2015 to December 31, 2017.
BY LINDA BORG