The Restorative Path to School District Transformation


Individual Presentation

First Presenter's Institution

School District 49 (Colorado)

Second Presenter's Institution

School District 49

Third Presenter's Institution


Fourth Presenter's Institution


Fifth Presenter's Institution



Session 6 Breakouts

Strand #1

Heart: Social & Emotional Skills

Strand #2

Hands: Safety & Violence Prevention


The proposal relates to "Heart" because restorative practices create an improved school climate where student voices are respected when decisions that impact the students' lives are made. The presentation also includes ideas and examples of applying the practices to the school district's staff as well. If we were teaching students to swim, we would not pair them with adults that don't know how to swim; therefore, we must have adults "walking the talk" they also live. Restorative practices also require emotional intelligence and mindfulness to evaluate the creation of fair processes, and should proactive measures fail, the aforementioned are required to heal harm and apply accountability-based learning in lieu of stigmatizing punishment. The proposal relates to "Safety and Violence Prevention" because the tools and techniques of restorative practices proactively create the conditions for less conflict by building relationship and support an ongoing dialogue. Although expectations are always high, they are also communicated clearly and consistently. Restorative practices facilitate and environment where rules can be challenged by the community respectfully and changed if necessary. Restorative practices can be used to defuse conflict and reduce bullying behavior as well. Restorative discipline techniques can be shared with school resource officers and school security personnel to shape their engagement with students and staff to be respectful and productive relationships based on trust.

Brief Program Description

The Director of Culture & Services and the Director of Safety & Security for a Colorado School district with 27,000 students will share tools, techniques, and experiences, which have cultivated restorative practices (RP) in their district. The presenters will discuss the effectiveness of proactive techniques, provide successful alternatives to traditional punishment, conduct a simulated restorative expulsion hearing, and highlight the district’s partnership with teen court.


Restorative practices (RP) are evidence-based techniques that leverage multiple disciplines within the social sciences (e.g., Psychology, Sociology, Criminology, etc.). RP is often narrowly defined as restorative justice and the associated reintegrative restorative circles, but that is only a single aspect of RP. Restorative practices are proactive strategies that establish fair process and high expectations to increase community understanding and engagement. Circles and conferences can be used proactively to facilitate lessons in the classroom or to support strategic planning in a community, which destigmatizes restorative circles when they are needed to address harm. The goal of restorative justice is to separate the 'deed from the doer', but RP establishes a culture and climate that mitigates there being a deed or a doer. The practice of RP is highly identified with school environments, but the presenters have experienced RP’s role in creating a more productive workplace. Conflict resolution and emotional intelligence are aspects of RP that make workplace leadership more effective as well. In their school district roles, the presenters conducted more than 100 expulsion hearings as formal restorative conferences. During the presentation a simulated hearing with audience participation is conducted to give the audience a real sense of how different their expulsion could become. The presenters discuss their partnership with Colorado Springs Teen Court and provide examples of how partnerships with the Colorado Springs Police and Sheriff’s departments allowed their district to save students from the judicial system by offering alternative restorative sanctions to heal their harm. The presenters share evidence-based techniques and highlight their experiences as a mechanism to create an interest in RP and provide some basic tools to start practicing RP.


Rand Study Summary (from Can Restorative Practices Improve School Climate and Curb Suspensions?)

Recent studies have concluded that exclusionary discipline practices, such as suspension, might be impeding student success. Correlational studies have shown a link between suspension and lower student achievement (Skiba et al., 2014), and suspensions are associated with involvement in the juvenile and criminal justice systems (Fabelo et al., 2011; González, 2012). One study found suspension to be the top predictor of students dropping out of school (Flannery, 2015). Correlational data show that, in the United States, controlling for demographic and academic variables (e.g., family income, immigration status, test scores), the estimated graduation rate for suspended students was 68 percent, compared with 80 percent for non-suspended students (Rumberger and Losen, 2016). Harsh discipline for minor or subjective infractions has contributed to high suspension rates. Some studies have found that most offenses for which students are suspended are nonviolent (Skiba et al., 2014), including tardiness, absence, and disrespect (González, 2012). Additionally, studies show that African American students are suspended at higher rates than white students. A report from the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles, documented large racial disparities in California’s school districts, noting that African American students were disproportionately dealt the harshest exclusionary penalties (Losen, Martinez, and Gillespie, 2012). A study of three years of discipline data from the state of Arkansas found that while school-level differences accounted for most of the variation in discipline, African American students received longer punishments than their white peers for the same offenses, even in the same schools (Anderson and Ritter, 2017). The use of restorative practices in schools has been suggested by policymakers and practitioners as both an alternative to exclusionary practices and as a mechanism for improving student behavior, thus reducing the need for suspensions. Restorative practices grew out of the use of restorative justice in the criminal justice system. Restorative justice relies on the basic notion that people are connected through a web of relationships and that when harm occurs between people, the web of relationships that creates a community is torn (Zehr, 2002). In practice, restorative justice brings together victims and offenders to discuss the harm, the impact it had, and what needs to be done to reestablish the relationships that form the community (Zehr, 2002; González, 2012). Restorative practices in schools include many specific program types and do not have one monolithic definition in the literature; they are broadly seen as a nonpunitive approach to handling conflict (Fronius et al., 2016). Restorative practices both prevent harm through relationship-building and respond to conflict in ways that repair damaged relationships (González, 2012; Kline, 2016).

A number of descriptive reports and correlational studies suggest positive outcomes of implementing restorative practices in schools (Riestenberg, 2003; Mirsky, 2007; Baker, 2008; McCold, 2008; Lewis, 2009; Sumner, Silverman, and Frampton, 2010; Gonzalez, 2012, 2015; Simson, 2012; Armour, 2013, 2016; McMorris et al., 2013; Jain et al., 2014; Gregory et al., 2016). These include lower suspension rates, improved school climate, and improved student attendance. However, none of these studies used experimental methods, which raises questions about the validity and generalizability of their findings.

G. McCluskey et al in Educational Review (excerpt)

Restorative Practices originally developed as restorative justice, an approach to crime that focussed on repairing harm and giving a voice to ‘‘victims’’ (Bazemore and Umbreit 2001; Barton 2000; Marshall 1998; Fattah and Peters 1998; Barnett 1977). RP in education differs from restorative justice in that the latter involves professionals working exclusively with young people who offend. In RP in education, the whole school community, all school staff, pupils and sometimes parents, can be involved (Hopkins 2004). Restorative Justice in the school setting views misconduct not as school-rule-breaking, and therefore as a violation of the institution, but as a violation against people and relationships in the school and wider community. (Cameron and Thorsborne 2001, 183) In many countries, it has developed through the use of restorative conferencing; a structured approach to restoring relationships when there has been harm, that involves offenders, victims, and key others in a process designed to resolve difficulties and repair relationships (Morrison 2007). The largest independent evaluation of restorative justice in schools in the UK to date, commissioned by the Youth Justice Board of England and Wales, reported on a pilot initiative in which youth offending teams worked with 26 schools in England and Wales (Bitel 2005). The aims of the initiative were to reduce offending, bullying and victimization and to improve attendance, largely through restorative conferencing. Mirroring findings elsewhere (Blood 2005; Chmelynski 2005; Drewery 2004), there was found to be little impact on some outcome measures such as exclusion and no significant improvement in pupil attitudes except in the small number of schools where a whole school approach had been adopted. However, the researchers concluded that restorative justice in schools, while ‘‘not a panacea… [could] if implemented correctly…improve the school environment, enhance learning and encourage young people to become more responsible and empathetic’’ (Bitel 2005, 13).

The evidence base of restorative practices is expanding daily to validate the effectiveness of this burgeoning social science.

Learning Objectives

Learning Objective 1: The participants will be able to discriminate between restorative practices and zero-tolerant practices.

Learning Objective 2: The participants will know how restorative practices operate effectively in a school environment.

Learning Objective 3: The participants will know how restorative practices operate effectively in a workplace environment.

Learning Objective 4: The participants will experience a restorative practices (RP) simulation, which will inspire an understanding of how RP is successfully applied.

Biographical Sketch

Dr. Lou Fletcher is responsible for developing and implementing district-wide education, outreach, and training initiatives to promote and sustain a culture of inclusion, equity, and respect. He fosters engagement and leads services for students, staff, and the community, which includes student enrollment, expulsion adjudication, grievance administration, district accountability, and restorative practice, and is responsible for monitoring and investigating incidents of harassment and discrimination according to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX. Dr. Fletcher served as an officer in the US Air Force for 20 years in locations such as Korea, France, Germany, and various places in the US.

Mr. David Watson has been with District 49 since 2007 and serves as the Director of Safety and Security. His previous background includes 21 years as a police officer and Sheriff’s Deputy (Retired), and as a Staff Sergeant in the Colorado Army National Guard. He attended Colorado Technical University and Rio Salado Community College. Mr. Watson is passionate about school safety and is on the Officer’s Board as the secretary for the Colorado Association of School Safety Law Enforcement Officers (CASSLEO) and is an active advocate for school safety procedures both in the Pike’s Peak region, as well as statewide.

Keyword Descriptors

Restorative Practices, Accountability, Deferment, Reintegration, Formal Restorative Conference, Expulsion, Fair Process, Reintegrative Shame

Presentation Year


Start Date

3-9-2021 1:40 PM

End Date

3-9-2021 2:40 PM

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Mar 9th, 1:40 PM Mar 9th, 2:40 PM

The Restorative Path to School District Transformation

Session 6 Breakouts

The Director of Culture & Services and the Director of Safety & Security for a Colorado School district with 27,000 students will share tools, techniques, and experiences, which have cultivated restorative practices (RP) in their district. The presenters will discuss the effectiveness of proactive techniques, provide successful alternatives to traditional punishment, conduct a simulated restorative expulsion hearing, and highlight the district’s partnership with teen court.