27th Aug 2018

     Governor Phil Murphy recently signed P.L. 2018, c. 78 (“Recess Law”) into law, which is effective immediately and requires all school districts to provide a daily recess period of at least twenty (20) minutes to students in kindergarten through fifth (5th) grade.  For a more thorough discussion, see below.

     Under the Recess Law, school districts are directed to hold mandatory recess periods outdoors, if feasible. A recess period is not mandatory on days in which the school day is substantially shortened due to a delayed opening or early dismissal.  Further, the recess period should not be used to meet the requirements of N.J.S.A. 18A:35-5 et seq. regarding health, safety and physical education.

     A student cannot be denied recess for any reason except for a violation of the school district’s code of student conduct, including a harassment, intimidation, and bullying investigation, or based upon the advice of a medical professional, school nurse, or the provisions of a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) and/or 504 Plan.

     When a student is denied recess as a result of a violation of the school district’s code of student conduct, the student may not be denied recess more than two (2) times per week, but must be provided with “restorative justice activities” instead.

P.L. 2018, c. 5 is effective immediately and must be implemented during the upcoming 2018-2019 school year.

What is Restorative Justice?

      The Recess Law defines “restorative justice activities” as “activities designed to improve the socioemotional and behavioral responses of students through the use of more appropriate, and less punitive, interventions thereby establishing a more supportive and inclusive school culture.” According to the United States Department of Education:

     “Restorative justice practices” refers to non-punitive disciplinary responses that focus on repairing harm done to relationships and people, developing solutions by engaging all persons affected by a harm, and accountability. A variety of restorative practices can be used in schools, ranging from brief on-the-spot responses to student behavior in the classroom to community conferencing involving multiple parties, such as students, parents, and teachers. The goals of restorative justice intervention in schools are to address the harm committed and enhance responsibility and accountability, build relationships and community, and teach students empathy and problem solving skills that can help prevent the occurrence of inappropriate behavior in the future.[1]

      Restorative justice activities would provide a cooperative and constructive way to address student misconduct, in lieu of more traditional forms of discipline, which are designed to enhance responsibility and accountability, build relationships, and teach students empathy and problem solving skills to help prevent inappropriate behavior in the future.

     Some types of restorative justice activities may include preventative and post-conflict resolution programs, peer mediation, and circle process.[2]  The New Jersey Department of Education is anticipated to publish guidance on what would constitute “restorative justice activities.”  Pending the NJDOE’s guidance, school districts can refer to other school districts and sister-state departments of education[3] for additional information concerning the concept and principles behind restorative justice in the educational setting.[4]  Information is also available through organizations such as the Centre for Justice & Reconciliation[5]; the National Opportunity to Learn Campaign[6]; and the Zehr Institute for Restorative Justice[7] also provide additional resources.

[1] See U.S. Department of Education’s “Guiding Principles: A Resource Guide for Improving School Climate and Discipline (January 2014), available at https://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/school-discipline/guiding-principles.pdf.

[2] For a discussion of each of these types of practices, see http://schottfoundation.org/sites/default/files/restorative-practices-guide.pdf.

[3] See Minnesota’s Department of Education’s Restorative Practices Trainer’s Guide Training Activities available at https://education.mn.gov/mdeprod/idcplg?IdcService=GET_FILE&dDocName=MDE058265&RevisionSelectionMethod=latestReleased&Rendition=primary. For book and manual references to restorative justice practices, see https://education.mn.gov/MDE/dse/safe/clim/prac/; see also Minnesota’s Department of Education’s Restorative Practices Implementation, Trainers and Training, An Administrator’s Checklist available at: https://education.mn.gov/mdeprod/idcplg?IdcService=GET_FILE&dDocName=MDE058269&RevisionSelectionMethod=latestReleased&Rendition=primary; see also Michigan’s Department of Education’s website: https://www.michigan.gov/mde/0,4615,7-140-74638_72831-358881–,00.html.  

[4] See, for example, the Oakland Unified School District in California, which created a “whole school approach” implementation guide to restorative justice in schools.  The implementation guide to restorative justice is available at https://www.ousd.org/cms/lib/CA01001176/Centricity/Domain/134/BTC-OUSD1-IG-08b-web.pdf.

[5] http://restorativejustice.org/rj-library/#sthash.w915wgvj.dpbs.

[6] http://schottfoundation.org/sites/default/files/restorative-practices-guide.pdf.

[7] http://zehr-institute.org/publications/.

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