power_cc_fc_web.jpg(Florida International University) – Nearly 100 parents, students and school administrators at a meeting Monday pressed the Miami-Dade School Board to adopt a “Restorative Justice” program to reduce suspensions, dropouts and arrests at public schools.

Supporters of the program say it views crime more broadly than simple law breaking, focusing on the harm it causes to victims, communities and the accused themselves, in addition to the judicial system.

The call came at a meeting at the Belafonte TACOLCY Center in Liberty City, sponsored by the Power U Center for Social Change, an activist organization that has been working on the issue for several years.

Among the speakers were Miami-Dade School Board member Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall and Marie Osborne, chief of the Miami-Dade County Public Defender’s juvenile division.

Organizers said the meeting’s goal was to pressure the school board to adopt the program in all schools, arguing it’s a proven way to reduce crime.

“The school board officials made a study on Restorative Justice,” said Julia Daniel, a Power-U organizer.  “They measured the feasibility of the results and they found that it was a good program. However, they haven’t done much about it.”

Osborne agreed, saying Restorative Justice “works and is cheaper than locking people up.”

Bendross-Mindingall said she would support the initiative.

“Restorative Justice, right now, is the number-one program strategy for facing the problem of our kids,” she  said.

But the transition to Restorative Justice needs more than just support. Its inclusion in public schools requires easing or eliminating the district’s zero-tolerance policy which requires principals to expel students in certain circumstances. It does not, however, stop police from arresting students for minor acts of disciplinary offenses such as hitting someone with a ruler.

“School police is the second largest direct arrest police force for kids in the county,” said Osborne. “Miami Metro should be number one and Miami city police second. That is alarming.”

“Restorative Justice” would allow students to finish their education without being forced to drop out due to suspensions or
getting involved with law enforcement and the courts, organizers of the meeting said.

“Pushing students out of school is only a way to make them end in the jailhouse,” Daniel said.

Luis Roca may be contacted at lroca001 @fiu.edu