Nine parents and teachers gathered in the basement of the New Haven Public Library in Fair Haven on Thursday to discuss implementing restorative justice in schools.
The event was organized by the nonprofit regional acting company Long Wharf Theatre and led by local peer mediator Joe Brummer. According to Long Wharf’s community engagement manager Elizabeth Nearing, last week’s program, entitled “Creating Peace in Schools,” was part of outreach efforts designed to promote upcoming performances of “Office Hour,” a play by Julia Cho about teachers responding to a student who they believe fits the profile of a school shooter. The meeting was intended to simulate the same programming that Brummer teaches in Connecticut schools about restorative justice, a conflict resolution mechanism in which victims and offenders come to an agreement.
“I want to abolish the world of punishment,” Brummer said at the beginning of the meeting. “It has never served us. It doesn’t serve us now. What would it be like if we could build the perfect, peaceful school?”
Brummer said the goals of restorative justice are to foster increased respect among teachers and students, hold communities accountable for individual actions and make teachers more sensitive to the trauma their students have experienced. Most attendees had backgrounds as teachers in New Haven Public Schools, with the exception of parent Fatima Rojas, who came with her elementary school–aged daughter.
The attendees took turns speaking, using a dog collar as a talking stick. During the workshop, Brummer encouraged people to share stories about times they had experienced respect or disrespect as students, teachers and parents in order to help attendees create workable classroom guidelines.
Participants shared personal experiences, at times thinking back to their childhoods, to find instances when they realized what respect meant to them in these different relationships. Rojas described an instance in which a teacher ignored the needs of her child and tried to excuse these actions to Rojas. She said that it was also important to her that school officials respect parents in order to foster peace in schools.
“I hope we can become a community that seeks healing rather than punishment,” Brummer told the News. “That we stop further suffering through punishment and seek to heal one another. Stop trying to control other people’s behavior through suffering and rewards and solve the problems that cause the behavior. We have a collective responsibility to each other to create the culture we want to live in.”
Elizabeth Nearing connected the discussion back to the play, handing out copies of the first scene for people to read. In the play, teachers discuss a student while he is not present and never claim responsibility for addressing problems the student may be having. To Brummer, this shows a lack of collaboration and community.
In the final moments of the meeting, Brummer pointed out the similarities between the teacher–student and citizen–leader relationship and said that the concept of “respect agreements,” guidelines created between teachers and students, could improve larger national communities.
“We need to create communities of collaboration,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if that is in a classroom, boardroom or government office. Leadership is about harnessing group wisdom, not telling people what to do.”
“Office Hour” will run from Jan. 17 to Feb. 11.
Carolyn Sacco | firstname.lastname@example.org