I love it when Oak Park is awakened from its collective slumber and has to face the realities that come with such goals as diversity, equity, and justice. It is in these moments that we have our own biases revealed and challenged. In these moments we either grow, become entrenched, or reach an uneasy compromise.

The phrase “Restorative Justice” has resurfaced in the aftermath of physical violence, potential weapons, and/or antisocial behavior in our two middle schools. Students, teachers, administrators, parents, and the community at large are struggling to move forward in the context of restorative justice and equity.

Not surprisingly, conflicting points of views have emerged. Along with these views, important questions have also emerged:

1.  “Are current school/district policies and staffing levels adequate to provide a reasonably safe environment for our students?”

2. “Who gets prioritized (the victims, the perpetrators, and/or the witnesses and close associates) and to what extent should they be restored?” 

3. “Should restorative justice realistically be the goal of all student discipline policies in District 97?”

4. “Is the school environment always the correct environment to carry out restorative justice?”

5. “What role should taking individual responsibility play when carrying out restorative justice?”

6. “How do you factor in such components as family support, race, social-emotional development, and access to affordable resources?”  

7. “Should forgiveness play a role in restorative justice?”

8. “How should we prioritize social justice in the context of academic excellence, producing critical thinkers, and affirming positive social skills in our students?”

9. “What constitutes criminal behavior and when should we move beyond restorative justice for answers?”

10. “Will the adults or the children lead the way toward a solution?”

After over 15 years of working in Chicago’s Austin community, I can confidently say the answers are not easy ones but are worth the sustained efforts of us all.

Ken Woods

Oak Park

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