The San Francisco Unified School District will develop a plan designed to replace some student suspensions with more “restorative” repercussions.

The San Francisco Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday night to create guidelines that encourage the use of restorative justice in situations where a student might otherwise be suspended.

This educational theory is designed to keep kids in class and perhaps even help them learn from their offense, according to SFUSD spokeswoman Gentle Blythe.

“Suspension aims to have an immediate consequence for a person who has violated school rules,” she said. “It doesn’t actually address the impact on the community, or the victims involved.”

California law mandates suspensions or expulsions for some student offenses, including bringing a firearm to campus, brandishing a knife, or sexual assault.

School administrators could apply these new guidelines to first-time offenses like minor graffiti or name-calling. Blythe gave the example of a student who set off a stink bomb at a school that piloted the restorative justice program in the district. The student had to attend a peer court and ended up assisting the school custodian and writing a report about what happens when a person breathes in sulfate ammonia, she said.

“In the past, they may have immediately moved to suspension,” Blythe said. “It’s about creating relationships between those who might be a victim and those who are perpetrators.”

The approach is also thought to cut down on repeat offenses and keep isolated incidents from becoming trends, she said.

Superintendent Carlos Garcia will now convene a task force to look at phasing in this new approach, according to Blythe. The group’s work will determine the specifics of the program.

The movement to create a restorative justice program was also borne of concern that a disproportionate amount of students suspended or expelled in the district are black and Hispanic, according to Blythe.

These ethnic groups also lag behind their white and Asian counterparts in test scores, an achievement gap the district is working to correct.

Keeping students in class is important, Blythe said, because “seat time is a huge indicator of students’ academic success.”

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