CRYSTAL LAKE – A new Illinois law aiming to eliminate automatic zero-tolerance suspensions and expulsions goes into effect Sept. 15. As a result, two Crystal Lake-based District 47 principals have been holding workshops on restorative justice to teach other Illinois administrators alternative student disciplinary measures.
The Illinois Principals Association started the restorative justice workshops in the spring with the goal of helping Illinois administrators comply with the new law, Public Act 99-456. The seminars are led by District 47’s Steve Scarfe, principal at North Elementary School, and Jeff Prickett, principal at Richard Bernotas Middle School.
“School systems have been the same way for about 150 years, so trying to approach things differently will be a challenge,” Scarfe said.
The new law will attempt to establish specific ground rules for when Illinois school districts can issue certain punishments, such as out-of-school suspensions and expulsions. It also will require that schools use all possible intervention methods before administrators issue an expulsion.
The workshops taught by Scarfe and Prickett go over the philosophy behind restorative practices and offer suggestions on how school districts can implement new programs that comply with the law.
“The administrators in District 47 are invested in what’s best for our kids, and we believe that restorative practices are what’s best for students,” Scarfe said. “When you suspend a student, all you’re doing is pushing the problem off, and you’re not addressing the root cause of the behavior. Restorative justice is a more fair approach that attempts to fix that problem.”
Prickett was in agreement with Scarfe on disciplining students via restorative practices rather than zero-tolerance methods.
“I wholeheartedly believe the more we suspend and possibly expel them increases their chance of going into the penal system or dropping out of school,” Prickett said.
Prickett said one practice he’d like to implement at his school is restorative conferences.
“I really like the idea of social circles, where kids can just talk about their issues with their peers and trusted teachers.” Prickett said. “That way, students can get to know each other better, and teachers can have a better relationship with their kids.”
Scarfe and Prickett plan to continue leading the workshops through next summer.