San Diego Unified School District expands restorative justice program

Posted at 5:50 PM, Jun 27, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-27 21:07:22-04

An out-of-control brawl at Lincoln High School in February put the spotlight on helping kids work through issues without turning to violence.

After the fight, students and school leaders came together to talk about how everyone can create a more positive and welcoming environment.

"I've seen a lot of change go throughout our school," Lincoln High student Litzy Ramirez said.

Ramirez leads a "talking circle" at her school, and the meetings are part of the San Diego Unified School District's restorative justice program.

The program is designed to teach kids how to better communicate and address issues in a respectful way.

"I can help them get through their problems, I can help them connect -- as a facilitator -- help them connect with each other, figure out why issues are happening and how to solve them," Ramirez said.

The restorative justice program started at Lincoln High and two other schools in 2014. It's been so successful that the district announced Monday they're expanding the program to all of its schools this upcoming year.

SD Unified Superintendent Cindy Marten said the goal is to make sure teachers are equipped to work with students.

"The answer isn't always a suspension or an expulsion; it's about how do we care for one another, how do we be in community with one another," Marten said.

In just the first two years, the program cut suspension and expulsion rates in half.

Ramirez said there's no doubt she's noticed a difference among many students.

"They were able to succeed and progress after, and it really impacted them in a very positive way," Ramirez said.