School Bullying: Understanding Restorative Practice Processes is Essential for Effective Circle Processes

WNYT and the Albany Times Union reported on May 29 (see articles here and here) of a bullying incident at Albany’s Hackett Middle School, that resulted in the victim being removed from the school and the offenders receiving (as of yet) no reprimand.

In this situation of school bullying, having the victim(s) “participate in a ‘sensitivity circle’ to talk about how the incident made her (them) feel” is not an adequate solution. This Circle Process approach to Restorative Justice seems to be lacking some very important principles of the practice. To restore justice in this situation, it would be good to see through a lens that focuses on the victim’s needs, as suggested by Howard Zehr (Little Book of Restorative Justice, 2002). These are important things to consider:

  • Crime is a violation of people and relationships.
  • Violations create obligations.
  • Justice involves victims, offenders, and community members in an effort to put things right.
  • Central focus: victim needs and offender responsibility for repairing harm.

Some important questions to ask:

  • Who has been hurt?
  • What are their needs?
  • Whose obligations are these?

As reported in the Times Union article,

“U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights concluded that race-based harassment had occurred and that district officials should have recognized that. The department also found that the district did not appropriately discipline the harassers or provide a viable remedy.”

“They failed every student in that school,” said Henri Williams, the girl’s father. “It’s not just about the black kids, it’s about the white kids knowing what’s OK.”

The article by the Times Union did not mention if the victim found the resolution to be adequate, nor did it mention what and how the offenders are taking positive action to restore justice (maybe they could research, write & give speeches concerning the trauma caused by structural violence such as institutionalized racism).

These are some important thoughts to consider.

The administration at Hackett Middle school has been faulted for not appropriately disciplining the harassers or providing a viable remedy.  This could be the result of inadequate training.  New York State Higher Education institutions are lacking in course offerings in the very important and growing fields of study of Restorative Practices and Peace Studies. If NYS higher education institutions do not offer adequate learning opportunities in these important fields of study, we need to ask ourselves,

“Why not?”


“Who’s obligation is it to meet this need?”

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


One thought on “School Bullying: Understanding Restorative Practice Processes is Essential for Effective Circle Processes

  1. So clearly mishandled. So unnecessary in today’s society of multi-ethnic and multi-cultural families and neighborhoods/cities.
    A VERY large part of the problem, sadly, is that many Talk the Talk but do not Walk the Walk. What I mean is this, where it needs to be socially correct, many adults conduct themselves in “appropriate” ways….not using racial slurs, working side by side with those different races/cultures/sexual orientation, so on and so on.
    How are today’s children to learn not to bully when they live it at home. They observe the actions of adults and copy them then when their child acts out what was learned at home, then the adults call for action.
    In my opinion, I do not see how removing the girl and placing her in a different school would make a difference.
    Aren’t these same harassers being promoted to the same high school in the autumn?
    Why weren’t the parents of the offending children brought in before the school officials for a meeting? Talking with the parents of these children in a non-offensive, rational, educated manner would allow officials to get a better sense of what was going on.
    The school should have then approached both sets of parents (victim and offender) and offered a meeting to find an agreeable solution to the situation.
    Only after the adults on both sides of the situation have been educated on the importance of not allowing this behavior then coming up with an acceptable consequence, can the children be educated and change behaviors.

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