Different way to discipline shows results

URBANA, Ill. - URBANA -- A fresh take on discipline is working in their schools. District leaders call them restorative circles. They're meant to get people talking about issues so they can get to the root of the problem and make it better. High school administrators say they're really happy with how things have been going.
Office referrals and suspensions have already been dropping the last seven years. Then they started the circle program last fall. Now they're seeing lower numbers, even with more kids going to school.
Plenty of schools have to deal with discipline issues. Urbana leaders are seeing big results from the way they're taking care of it.
"We've seen a significant drop in discipline referrals, suspensions," said Urbana High assistant principal Travis Courson.
He says their restorative circle program is a major reason why.
"Everyone has a chance to be heard," said Courson. "Sometimes the underlying piece could be, 'I don't feel respected when I'm speaking with the person,' so you're trying to find that root of the problem."
They do that by actually getting in a circle and talking about how they feel.
"It's about being heard and validated in a process where there was some conflict," said Courson.
The process is confidential. Urbana High dean Eric Morrow says even he was skeptical it would help.
"When I first was working with them, I wasn't sure about them," said Morrow. "But once you have some buy-in, you can see them work. You can see the success and I think you can see the impact at the school."
A circle keeper helps mediate. Then each person involved expresses their feelings and the other person repeats back what they feel like is the big issue.
"Like an iceberg, you see the 10% and then 90% and when you see the 90%, that's when you can solve a problem," said Morrow.
At the end, each person agrees to a list of things they'll do or stop doing moving forward. The circles don't always work the first time, but the numbers show improvement.
"We're down 40% in our office referrals and our suspensions are down 60% in the same two semesters," said Courson.
By taking conflict into their own hands, students are learning more about how to deal with it. Staff members usually work as circle keepers, but now some students are being trained to do it as well. Courson says they know they're not the only school doing it, but they're proud they can say they're seeing positive results.
Last school year, there were 835 referrals and 87 suspensions in the fall semester. Then this past fall, there were only 524 office referrals and 29 suspensions. Courson says they also used to have bigger circles, but now mostly have smaller ones.

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