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Seems the patellar reflex dominates research as much as it does the blogosphere. A policy is either "zero tolerance" (and therefore regressive and bad), or it's "restorative" (and progressive and good). School to prison piplelines are postulated on the basis of the observation that nearly a quarter of all black male babies will serve time in a county jail or state or federal prison at some point during their lives. No evidence that educational policy causes this has ever been produced, however.
Most schools steer a middle course on discipline. For some things, namely drug dealing and possession of weapons, zero tolerance is indeed the rule. You will be permanently expelled for either offense. Yet permanent expulsion, or even a suspension of more than one or two days, is exceptional in cases of non-injury schoolyard fistfighting.
There's nothing wrong, per se, with conflict resolution by dialog between students in circles. But we can't just declare this the best method for all conflicts, many of which arise outside the school itself (e.g. gang rivalries that run over decades) and may not be resolvable within the school. Schools can (and should) yield students some leeway on minor misbehavior (tardiness, a brief verbal altercation or shoving incident). But it cannot extend tolerance or attempt "therapeutic justice" when it comes to items (gangs, knives, guns, heroin) which endanger everyone in the school.
Schools are educational institutions. To expect omniscience and omnipotence on communitywide social problems from them is hardly reasonable.
Restorative justice can help communities heal and move on from acts of harm.
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