This is part of a series examining Restorative Justice in schools and communities, produced in partnership with the California Endowment.

What is Restorative Justice?

When we think of traditional forms of discipline, we automatically think of sending a student out of a classroom, having them do menial tasks as punishment, or suspending or expelling them out of school. Although these ways of punishment are standard in most public schools, they have a drastic effect on the health of all students in a school setting.

Currently there is a statewide movement to address the ways students are being punished for minor incidents that happen in California public schools. Whether a student refuses to read a passage during an exercise in class or steals another student's iPod, there are ways to positively discipline students without having to suspend or expel them. Restorative Justice offers a way to create a system of accountability and unity amongst all people present in a school setting through the use of community building and relationship repairing circles.

Community building circles allow for students to sit together in a circle and answer questions that reveal themselves to their peers, thus creating relationships based on common experiences.

Relationship repairing circles allow for students to sit in circle with those that caused a harm, were harmed, and those that were indirectly affected by the harm. By understanding that everyone has needs to be met when harm is caused and acting on meeting those needs, relationships can be strengthened and restored.

With almost 83% of youth in Los Angeles identifying as people of color and high suspension and expulsion rates in the Los Angeles Unified School district, it has become supremely important to address the issue of suspensions and expulsions as it directly leads to students dropping out and coming in contact with the criminal justice system.

In collaboration with Las Fotos Project and Building Healthy Communities Boyle Heights (BHC BH), this series of essays and articles explores Restorative Justice and how building relationships and repairing harm can strengthen community in schools and beyond. The series will also highlight the work of youth photographers who, through Las Fotos Project, have explored Restorative Justice in schools through a series of documentary media projects using photography and audio interviews, and share the narratives of youth, parents, school administrators, and decision makers.