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Alternatives to Traditional School Discipline - Breakout Session, NIJ Virtual Conference on School Safety

On February 16-18, 2021, the National Institute of Justice hosted the Virtual Conference on School Safety: Bridging Research to Practice to Safeguard Our Schools. This video includes the following presentations: 

A Randomized Controlled Trial of Restorative Justice in New York City High Schools, Lama Hassoun Ayoub

Restorative justice (RJ) practices—which seek to build community and hold school community members who cause harm accountable—ostensibly represent an antidote to exclusionary disciplinary approaches and punitive school environments. In partnership with the New York City Department of Education, this evaluation examines the process and outcomes of RJ implementation in Brooklyn high schools with the highest suspension rates in New York City. The study employs a randomized controlled trial design, where 10 high schools were randomly assigned to either the control group (business as usual) or the treatment group (RJ). Because schools in the control group were also poised to receive standard RJ training from the NYC DOE, we also incorporated a matched comparison group of schools from nearby neighborhoods without any exposure to RJ. The study has involved process evaluation and an ongoing outcome evaluation. Results from the process evaluation indicate varied approaches to school-wide implementation of RJ and the key roles that leadership, beliefs, and resources play in facilitating or challenging implementation. Using multi-level modeling, the outcome study will examine the impact of RJ on student incidents, suspensions, and attendance. Outcome results will be final by May 2021.

Pursuing Equitable and Restorative Communities (PERC) Initiative: Pittsburgh's Restorative Practices Program, John Engberg

Restorative practices (RP) are a strategy to reduce suspension rates by proactively improving relationships among students and staff and by building a sense of community in classrooms and schools. We examine the implementation of RP in Pittsburgh Public Schools and estimate its impact on student outcomes such as suspensions, transfers to alternative placements, attendance, arrests, and test scores; on staff such as attendance, classroom control and value added; and school climate.

A subset of Pittsburgh schools implemented SaferSanerSchools™ Whole-School Change program for two school years (2015-16 and 2016-17), in conjunction with the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP). IIRP provided four days of professional development. Each principal was assigned an IIRP coach. All school staff were asked to participate in monthly professional learning groups (PLGs).


RP was successful at reducing exclusionary disciplinary practices without harming classroom or school climate, particularly at the elementary level. RP as implemented was not successful in middle school grades. Training provided to school staff by IIRP was valued and effective, although care should be taken by district staff to set expectations and establish priorities. Attention should be paid to data systems that will allow staff to monitor changes in disciplinary incidents and sanctions.

The Impact of the Safe Public Spaces in Schools Program on School Safety, Student Behavior, and Discipline Events, Kimberly Kendizora and Juliette Berg

The Safe Public Spaces in Schools Program (SPS) is a schoolwide, multi-component approach to enhance safety in out-of-classroom spaces in schools. It was studied in a randomized trial with 24 urban middle schools. The implementation evaluation used independent observation and interviews to find that SPS was well-implemented, but that comparison schools also had high levels of safety activities similar to key components of the SPS program. The impact evaluation used a comparative interrupted time series (CITS) approach and found differences in baseline trends. Control schools were getting slightly better while SPS schools were getting slightly worse in terms of behavioral incidents and suspensions. During the two-year implementation, SPS schools maintained their trajectory, but the control schools also showed increasing numbers of incidents and suspensions in those years. The CITS estimates for suspensions overall, suspensions for serious incidents, and suspensions for serious incidents in public spaces were statistically significant. The data show a modest harm reduction effect: there was no change in trend for SPS schools but engaging in SPS may have kept treatment schools from experiencing worse outcomes than they otherwise might have. There were no effects of SPS on student-reported safety, student-teacher trust, classroom behavior, or bullying.

Dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline While Enhancing School Safety: The Philadelphia Police School Diversion Program, Naomi Goldstein

Designed to keep youth out of the justice system and in school, the Philadelphia Police School Diversion Program offers voluntary community-based services to eligible youth accused of minor school-based offenses in lieu of arrest. With funding from NIJ and OJJDP, this study examined Police School Diversion Program outcomes, revealing an 84% decrease in the annual number of school-based arrests across Philadelphia in the program’s first five year, a 34% decrease in the annual number of serious behavioral incidents in schools, and a significantly lower recidivism rate two-years after the referring incident for diverted youth relative to youth arrested for similar offenses in the year prior to Diversion Program implementation. Additionally, diverted youth were less likely than a matched group of arrested youth to experience exclusionary school discipline in the year following the school-based incident that led to police referral. This presentation will review these promising findings and discussion the ways in which this pre-arrest diversion program prevents youth from entering the justice system and helps them stay on normal developmental paths as adolescents and as students.

Date Published: February 16, 2021