The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Opinion | Iowa City K-12 students will have better relationships due to restorative justice

The school district is in the third year of its restorative justice program.
Carly Schrum
Iowa City Community School District Board member Lisa Williams, President Ruthina Malone, and Vice-President J.P. Claussen as seen at the Educational Services Center, on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024.

Iowa City schools are making great strides to provide positive reinforcement discipline for students. Other school districts in Iowa should follow Iowa City’s lead.

The Iowa City Community School District has implemented restorative justice for student discipline since the 2021-22 school year, and it’s working. Restorative justice provides students with mental health-focused help as opposed to outright discipline. This is a start in the right direction for improving student mental health.

This new approach to student discipline promotes the rehabilitation of students rather than making them feel worse. Children’s mental health is fragile and needs to be nurtured, not only by their families but by their schools as well.

The restorative justice program’s core principles focus on reducing disciplinary referrals, suspensions, and expulsions. It also aims to repair the relationships between victims and perpetrators by letting the victims tell them how they were hurt, then the perpetrators can work to put to right the harm they inflicted.

According to the National Institutes of Health, harsh discipline can lead to low performance in school, less memory capacity, and internalization of issues.

Simply suspending or expelling a student from school does nothing to address underlying problems the child may be facing either at home or with their peers. Implementing this new practice of restorative justice can give students an outlet for getting help that they otherwise wouldn’t have.

This has already been proven to be successful in some other schools outside of Iowa City. The Northwest Evaluation Association describes the evidence of restorative justice, reporting that there is less bullying, a more positive school environment, and reductions in suspensions.

Concerns for the new restorative justice program implementation in the Iowa City area include the potential time investment of teachers and the discomfort faced by victims. However, school is a place of learning, and teachers are responsible for nurturing their students’ minds since children spend most of their day at school.

Teachers should start putting in more effort to resolve conflict rather than handing their troubled students a detention slip and sending them out of the classroom.

Restorative justice has a broader objective of fostering lasting change in students’ perspectives and behaviors. It encourages the perpetrator and victims to come to an understanding or at the very least acknowledge each other’s feelings. This exchange goes a long way in helping the perpetrator understand the harm they’ve caused and to work towards righting their wrongs.

The transformative potential of restorative justice in shaping students’ lives has so many positive effects that ultimately outweigh the negatives of past disciplinary actions. Students will learn to be more socially aware as they make their way through school, and victims will feel heard by those who inflicted harm on them.

Sure, there are times when a student deserves that punishment if they cause harm to others at school. In most cases, however, kids are just trying to learn how to interact with other people and school is the playground for social unawareness. That’s why teachers are responsible for nurturing not only the minds of their students but the relationships they form.

Iowa schools should embrace implementing restorative justice programs. Therapeutic interventions are a necessity for students to experience so they can learn to behave and think more healthily and make sure not to hurt anyone else
moving forward.


Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.


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About the Contributors
Natalie Nye, Opinions Columnist
Natalie Nye is a fourth-year Journalism/Mass Communication student with a minor in art at the Univeristy of Iowa. She is an opinions columnist at The Daily Iowan and a freelance writer for Little Village magazine. She also has her own blog, called A Very Public Blog.
Carly Schrum, Photojournalist
Carly is a freshman majoring in Journalism and Mass Communication and potentially majoring in sustainability. She works at the Daily Iowan as a photojournalist.