SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a resolution that urges the state's school system to implement restorative justice programs to better address student discipline.
Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City, sponsor of HR1, said restorative justice programs help students stay in school and deal with their challenges in healthy, constructive ways.
Hollins, who is a social worker, said she became interested in the approach while working with homeless clients who had been suspended or expelled from school as punishment for misbehavior that was often linked to trauma they were experiencing.
Often, their exclusion from school led to involvement in the juvenile justice system, something sweeping reforms to the system passed last year are attempting to prevent.
Hollins described HR1 as a "complement" to the reforms.
Rep. Lowry Snow, R-Santa Clara, who carried the reform legislation, spoke in support of HR1, which passed by a vote of 48-22.
School-based interventions work, are respectful and keep young people from returning to negative behaviors that consume the time and resources of the juvenile justice system, he said.
Rep. Timothy Hawkes, R-Centerville, however, said restorative justice approaches don't work in all cases.
"This is one solution among many but not a perfect solution in every case," Hawkes said.
The resolution states that restorative justice has been used extensively "to divert people from criminal justice systems and as a program for convicted offenders already in the adult or juvenile justice systems."
The approach shifts the emphasis from managing behavior by focusing on "the building, nurturing and repairing of relationships while retaining the ability to hold misbehaving students accountable," the resolution states.11 comments on this story
Hollins shared her own experiences with restorative justice. A student who was bullying her daughter was counseled about how his conduct impacted others "and the bullying stopped." she said.
In her daughter's case, she elected not to participate in the school's meetings with the bully. No one would be required to take part in such "circles" under HR1, Hollins said.
Suspension and expulsion remain as tools for schools to use, but the resolution encourages approaches that address the underlying causes of students' conduct.