Bullying, restorative justice, equity work among issues discussed at school district’s Community Conversation

December 14, 2017. Lawrence Journal-World.

Around 50 people filled the Lawrence Public Library’s auditorium Thursday night for a public discussion on challenges facing the Lawrence school system.

The Community Conversation took place nearly a year after the district hosted its first event, which came after a tumultuous semester dominated by talk of racial equity and drew hundreds to Lawrence High School’s cafeteria. Race and other overarching equity issues were once again the focus Thursday night, along with concerns ranging from bullying and mental health services to curriculum and limited classroom resources.

Justice Knox Follows Micah’s Directive To Be Community Organizer

November 22, 2017. Patch.com

KNOXVILLE, TN — They call themselves Justice Knox. They live by Micah’s words: “Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly.” They are the parishioners of 20 Knoxville churches–black and white, rich and poor–who have come together to speak directly to local government officials about how they believe problems in the community should be addressed.

The issues they speak about are selected by asking each other to identify the most important problems and then doing in-depth research as to what solutions should be recommended. Working on an academic year calendar, last April they asked law enforcement to look at how they dealt with the mentally ill and the school system to commit to how it dealt with students who had behavioral problems.

Group renews push for peer-based conflict resolution vs. traditional discipline in schools

June 26, 2017. The Lawrence Journal-World.

Renewing their earlier calls for transparency and accountability, members of Justice Matters are again urging the school board to consider implementing restorative justice in Lawrence schools.

Gary Schmidt, co-chair of the group’s racial justice steering committee, used Monday’s school board meeting to re-engage the board in a conversation that board president Marcel Harmon said began last spring surrounding racial justice. Restorative justice hinges on empowering students to resolve conflicts on their own through peer-mediated small groups, as opposed to more traditional disciplinary methods.

Justice Knocks: Sheriff & Police Chief Answer, School Board Does Not

April 24, 2017. Knoxville Mercury.

“Justice!” bellowed Pastor Chris Battle from the front of Central United Methodist Church on Monday night.

“Knocks!” thundered back the 1,000 or so people in the pews, members of about 16 congregations across the city. They repeated the chant three times, then thundered their feet against the floor like the hand of God knocking.

ICARE: ‘People power’ promotes social change in Jacksonville

Tuesday, April 21, 2015. jacksonville.com

Ebonee Williams (left) and Ke’yanna Lamar from Frank H. Peterson Academies of Technology talk about how the Restorative Justice program has helped them stay in school and move ahead with their lives. Leaders from church congregations across Jacksonville met Monday evening for the ICARE Nehemiah Assembly at the Potter’s House off Normandy Boulevard in Jacksonville. The Interfaith Coalition for Action, Reconciliation and Empowerment pressed city leaders to improve issues with youth crime, education, jobs and mental health issues and highlighted successes stemming from the previous ICARE events.

Seniors Ke’yanna Lamar and Ebonee Williams, who have leadership roles in Frank H. Peterson Academies of Technology’s student court, have seen up close how restorative justice can redirect the lives of troubled teens at their Jacksonville high school.

The program calls for students who commit code-of-conduct violations to go through mediation with accountability boards of fellow students or staff. The goal is to address the cause of a student’s behavior problem through in-school and community programs, rather than taking a zero-tolerance approach with out-of-school suspensions or worse, they told an interfaith assembly Monday night.

“I am really proud of the program. It allows us to deal with issues in our school,” Ke’yanna said.

Mentoring, counseling or help with family or academic issues, combined with some method of making amends, are a more productive deterrent to youth crime than punishment, the student leaders said.

“There is something deeper going on,” Ebonee said. “We need to find the real reason, find out what is really going on.”

Restorative justice is one of the key recommendations made over the last few years by the interfaith group, the Interfaith Coalition for Action, Reconciliation and Empowerment, or ICARE. At the Monday night assembly, members of the nonprofit’s 38 congregations received progress reports on that and other recommendations made to the school district, city government and other agencies.

Many of them have been or soon will be implemented: restorative justice and direct instruction in some Duval schools, a day resource center for the homeless, a task force and study to spur economic development in Northwest Jacksonville through employee-owned businesses and a model to decrease mental health-care waiting lists.

“People power is present and growing,” said co-president Kent Dorsey, pastor of Riverside Avenue Christian Church. “We have taken another big step toward a fair and just Jacksonville.”

But ICARE members were encouraged to keep up the pressure to ensure continued funding and progress.

“The people of Jacksonville need to know they will be heard,” said Eugene Diamond, pastor of Abyssinia Baptist Church. “We will not be discouraged if the journey is long.”

Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti has implemented restorative justice in 87 Duval schools. The program is part of a “culture change” to use code-of-conduct violations as opportunities for teaching, rather than punishment, he said.

As a result, out-of-school suspensions have dropped from 20,000 to 8,000 in one year, he said.

There also is a community component of restorative justice — civil citations issued by law enforcement for minor, non-violent offenses by youth, rather than arrests. Neighborhood accountability boards handle the mediation process between offenders and victims and mete out community service and restitution plans.

The boards have been set up in three areas — the Northside, Westside and Beaches — and have given 150 youth ”second chances,” said ICARE member Geneva Pittman.

Each civil citation costs about $400 to process, compared to $5,000 to prosecute arrests, she said.

“This is fiscally responsible not just socially responsible,” she said.