School discipline is at a crossroad. Most researchers have concluded that years of punitive discipline measures have produced harmful consequences for students. Suspended students are more likely to fail courses and become chronically absent (Hammond, Linton, Smink, & Drew, 2007). Increased disengagement and subsequent drop-out imposes significant social and economic costs (Rumberger & Losen, 2016). Receiving just one out-of-school suspension can potentially alter a student’s educational trajectory (Balfanz, Byrnes, & Fox, 2013). Minority students often bear the brunt of this harm, as they are suspended at significantly higher rates than their white peers (Noltemeyer, Marie, Mcloughlin, & Vanderwood, 2015).
To address these imbalances, districts nationwide have explored the use of preventive, early response disciplinary models. Restorative practices are one such model. Restorative practices represent an attempt to reform school discipline and improve relationships among stakeholders while minimizing punitive disciplinary measures (Vaandeering, 2010). Morrison and Vaandeering (2012) posit that restorative practices address “power and status imbalances” by promoting the “soft” power of relationship building and understanding, rather than “hard” power of the institution to sanctions as a motivator.”