A promising path toward equity

Restorative circles develop relationships, build community, and bridge differences

By Tala Manassah, Tom Roderick and Anne Gregory
August 2018
Vol. 39 No. 4
Racial inequity is a pernicious problem in American schools. Among its many manifestations are discrepancies in school discipline. Study after study has shown that black students are two to three times more likely than their peers to be suspended and expelled, even for similar infractions (Fabelo et al., 2011; Losen & Martinez, 2013). New evidence suggests that this pattern directly contributes to the racial achievement gap, and in the long term it is related to school dropout and increased involvement in the juvenile justice system (Morris & Perry, 2016; Skiba, Arredondo, & Williams, 2014). In 2014, federal and state agencies recommended that schools reduce reliance on suspensions in favor of alternative practices. School and district leaders are increasingly seeking such alternative tools and strategies, but

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Tala Manassah, Tom Roderick, and Anne Gregory

Tala Manassah ( is deputy executive director
Tom Roderick ( is executive director of Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility in New York, New York.
Anne Gregory ( is associate professor at Rutgers Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology in Piscataway, New Jersey.

What are Restorative Practices?

Restorative practices differ from traditional school discipline: They focus on strengthening relationships, collaborative problem solving, and giving voice to the person harmed and the person causing the harm. Restorative practices in schools arose from the restorative justice movement in which victims, offenders, and others involved meet to resolve conflict and repair relationships.

While many restorative practices programs focus primarily on changing the way adults address discipline problems when they occur, some also aim to prevent conflicts from happening in the first place by fostering trust and a sense of community among students and adults through strategies such as classroom circles. Circles are a particularly powerful strategy for addressing the developmental needs of adolescents because they offer deep opportunities for cultivating a sense of belonging and for self-expression.


Fabelo, T., Thompson, M.D., Plotkin, M., Carmichael, D., Marchbanks, M.P., & Booth, E.A. (2011). Breaking schools’ rules: A statewide study of how school discipline relates to students’ success and juvenile justice involvement. New York, NY: Council of State Governments Justice Center.

Losen, D.J. & Martinez, T.E. (2013). Out of school and off track: The overuse of suspensions in American middle and high schools. Los Angeles, CA: The UCLA Center for Civil Rights Remedies at The Civil Rights Project.

Morris, E.W. & Perry, B.L. (2016). The punishment gap: School suspension and racial disparities in achievement. Social Problems, 63(1), 68-86.

Skiba, R.J., Arredondo, M.I., & Williams, N.T. (2014). More than a metaphor: The contribution of exclusionary discipline to a school-to-prison pipeline. Equity & Excellence in Education, 47(4), 546-564.

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