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Lawmaker Pushes Restorative Justice Awareness To California

The San Diego Unified School District Board of Education building is shown in...

Photo by Milan Kovacevic

Above: The San Diego Unified School District Board of Education building is shown in this photo, Sept. 15, 2017.

Students from City Heights pushed San Diego schools to adopt an alternative discipline policy back in 2017. Now a local lawmaker is promoting the change statewide.

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D-79) has introduced a resolution to brand September as Restorative Practices in School Awareness Month in California.

Instead of the typical suspensions, expulsions and detentions, restorative justice practices prioritize mediation, counseling and communication. Research shows students who were permanently or temporarily kicked out of school are more likely to come in contact with the juvenile criminal justice system.

Students at Rowan Elementary School in City Heights are already embracing restorative justice. Every week, 20 fourth- and fifth-grade leaders, who underwent a 12-hour training, lead their peers in restorative justice circles.

RELATED: San Diego Unified Approves New Discipline Policy

"It's a positive push towards creating a stronger, more positive community on campus. Stepping away from consequences and helping students feel like they're in a loving community," said Brooke Melling, a teacher at Rowan Elementary.

The students play games and ask ice-breaker questions to encourage their classmates to open up about their lives.

"People keep a lot of things bottled up in their head," said Zelix Lopez, one of the student leaders. "That's me. I keep a lot of stuff bottled up in my head, but when we do our circles they get to the point where we feel comfortable."

Weber says she hopes the resolution might encourage other school districts across California to adopt the practice.

"How do we help people come back into society and restore themselves? And that's what it's talking about, restoring yourself in the community," she said. "It helps not only the person who has been the victim of a situation but the perpetrator as well as the community. We don't have people to throw away."

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