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ICCSD to present new restorative justice program, designed to close racial gaps in school disciplining


Fourth grade students at Alexander Elementary in Iowa City participate in their afternoon yoga lesson, October 2017. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

The Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) has launched a restorative justice pilot program to promote equity within the district, and on Wednesday, Brad Kelly, the program’s coordinator, will explain how it will affect staff and students during an online presentation.

Kelly has worked in the school district for six years, serving as a student advisory coordinator at Southeast Junior High School. He has previous experience working in social services in California.

The event will take place at 7 p.m. on Wednesday. It is hosted by The League of Women Voters of Johnson County. League member Barb Stein said they want to put “a little spotlight” on the district for implementing a positive change in the schools’ climate.

“We wanted the community to hear some of the positive things that were going on,” she said. “I think that it’s so interesting. It’s such a positive thing.”

The program is intended to help accomplish goals set by the district’s Comprehensive Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Plan 2019-2022. That plan set six goals to address inequality within the K-12 system:

  • Reduce the opportunity gap for structurally disadvantaged students
  • Reduce disproportionality in discipline
  • Create equitable, inclusive and supportive school environments
  • Diverse and culturally proficient teachers, administrators and staff
  • Increase stakeholder engagement (parents, students and community members)
  • Culturally responsive and equity-informed district policies and practices

The district is seeking to incorporate restorative justice practices as a way of addressing racial disparities and other inequities in how discipline is administered in schools. In the 2019-20 school year, Black students made up 20.5 percent of the district’s enrollment but accounted for 60 percent of suspensions and 52 percent of office referrals, the district’s annual progress report states.

Administrators and staff can use restorative justice practices as an alternative to traditional discipline, such as suspensions and expulsions.

This might include Circle training, a conflict management tool. Students involved in a conflict are invited to join the Circle and can bring a friend for support. During the Circle, students can speak freely about their experiences and take steps to repair harm. Circles provide accountability within the school community and environment.

This program is one of the steps ICCSD is implementing in its attempt to promote equity in its schools. In August, Janet Abejo-Parker became the district’s first ombudsperson. Her office acts as a neutral independent party to help mediate conflicts, and assist students and families by providing resources and guidance regarding disciplinary issues.

Anyone interested can watch the presentation on the pilot program and ask questions on Zoom. City Channel 4 will also livestream the program to the LWVJC’s Facebook page and website.


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