SALT LAKE CITY — A House resolution that urges the state's school system to implement restorative justice programs to better address student discipline was endorsed Friday by the House Education Committee.
The bill moves to the full House for further consideration.
HR1, sponsored by Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City, notes that restorative justice programs help students stay in school and deal with their challenges in healthy, constructive ways.
Hollins, who is a social worker, said she became interested in the approach while working with homeless clients who had been suspended or expelled from school as punishment for misbehavior that was often linked to trauma they were experiencing.
According to the resolution, restorative justice has been used extensively "to divert people from criminal justice systems and as a program for convicted offenders already in the adult or juvenile justice systems."
The approach shifts the emphasis from managing behavior by focusing on "the building, nurturing and repairing of relationships while retaining the ability to hold misbehaving students accountable," the resolution states.
Hollins said in her own experience with restorative justice, a student who was bullying her daughter was counseled about how his conduct impacted others "and the bullying stopped.”
Suspension and expulsion may punish misbehavior but fail to address the underlying causes of the conduct.
Mindi Holmdahl, director of student services and counseling for the Salt Lake City School District, said expulsions or suspensions are punishments that "build resentment and build (a sense of) institutional betrayal."
Rep. Derrin Owens, R-Fountain Green, said the bill dovetails nicely with sweeping criminal justice system reforms passed by the Utah Legislature in 2017.
Conversely, "restorative justice is an innovative approach to offensive and inappropriate behavior that addresses the root causes of the behavior issues," the resolution states.
Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, said change in approach is not a passing fad.
"This is a tidal wave of philosophical change," he said.