The importance of safe and restorative school environments

What are safe and restorative environments?

Safe and restorative practices in public schools focus on reducing the use of harmful or unfair disciplinary methods by encouraging positive relationships, supporting more community schools, and using restorative, evidence-based approaches to guide student behavior. Restorative practices are designed to prioritize students’ safety by creating environments where they feel welcome and supported. Using this model in schools bolsters community ties by providing essential mental health services and mentorship programs, which not only prevent violence but also significantly contribute to students’ emotional well-being and academic success.

Students' well-being, safety, and academic success depend on their learning environments

Making sure  students feel safe, welcomed, and valued in their schools is essential for their well-being and academic success. Our schools are safest when students and families feel welcomed, valued, and supported. An investment in creating positive school climates is an investment in the safety and well-being of our students. 

Students of color and those from low-income households face greater barriers to academic success:

  • Students of color living in under-resourced communities face disparities that extend well beyond the classroom including healthcare access, food insecurity, mental health support, family/social support, and safety concerns that directly affect academic success. 
  • Underfunded schools also frequently experience higher turnover rates among administrators, teachers, and students. This cycle, largely driven by burnout caused by punitive accountability systems, hurts the overall trust and relationship building within these schools. 
  • The Center for Public Integrity reported that Virginia is at the top of the national list for criminal referrals in schools. Evidence shows that Black, Indigenous, Latine/x students, and students with disabilities are punished more harshly compared to their peers. 

We need to invest holistically in supporting our students to create the best learning environments for our students and best working environments for our school staff that we can. Every student deserves to thrive, regardless of what zip code they’re born in.

How can we create safe and restorative school environments?

When we create safe and restorative school environments, we’re prioritizing our students’ well-being and setting them up for future success. It’s up to Virginia lawmakers to ensure every student has a safe and supportive school environment by:

  • Increasing the use of, and funding for, restorative practices and investing in proven alternatives to exclusionary discipline through evidence-based restorative practices, positive support and strategies for improving behavior, and different levels of support based on student needs. 
  • Abiding by The Virginia Community School Framework (VCSF) model that aims to enhance student academic success by removing barriers to learning, such as a lack of mental health support or unsafe school environments and investing in more community schools in Virginia. Community schools meet students where they are through four categories: basic needs, emotional and mental health needs, student engagement and motivation, and family and community engagement.
  • Utilizing methods that work: increasing restorative funding statewide, bringing in community members to resolve conflict and prevent violence, investing in the Virginia Tiered Systems of Support and Positive Behavioral Interventions, and enhancing school-based mental health support for safer student environments.