Out-of-school suspensions are on the rise in K-12 school districts across the country. When conflict occurs between students, one resolution often presented is out-of-school suspension. Many times this leads to failing grades, and in some cases, students are even forced to drop out of school.
School bullying is a problem apparent in all schools. Some school bullies do not fully understand the affect their actions have on their peers. When their actions lead to out-of-school suspension or expulsion, this does not always solve the problem. With out-of-school suspension and expulsion, a gap creates between accepting the punishment and fully understanding the consequence of their action. Some students involved in bullying or other peer conflicts will continue the behavior after they are allowed back in school or if they are not allowed back into school at all.
Due to these issues, some schools have been using a different approach to conflict resolution and disciplinary action for students. This approach is peer mediation. When there is a conflict or bullying issue that arises, the students involved are brought into peer mediation. This allows them to discuss the issue, its effects and the consequences with a third party. The third party is also one of their peers, but a peer that has not been involved in the incident.
Another piece of peer mediation is restorative justice. This is used in order to try and resolve conflicts before they escalate. Restorative justice focuses on the harm done to relationships, rather than the rule and the punishment. For example, if a student starts a fight in the hallway, all the students involved are placed in a restorative circle for peer mediation. This allows the students that were harmed to express how this has impacted them while the student causing the harm listens.
Peer mediation allows discipline to take place in school, lessening the effect on students’ grades when compared to out of school suspension. "It works," says Mara Schiff, a professor at Florida Atlantic University, "because youth are empowered to take responsibility for their own behavior, to be held accountable for their own behavior and to make it right."
Many schools already engage students in their bullying prevention strategies. Using peer mediation can be one way to increase student engagement and strengthen anti-bullying efforts. One school using peer mediation and restorative circles to resolve conflict is Ypsilanti High School in Michigan. Since implementing this concept, the school has seen out-of-school suspensions decrease by about 10-percent.
Do you feel like peer mediation is a good alternative to out-of-school suspension? Share your thoughts on our blogs!
To learn more about improving or creating a bullying prevention strategy in your school, download Alert Solutions’ Bullying Prevention Guide today!