The Dignity Act

A Resource and Promising Practices Guide for School Administrators & Faculty


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One of the Dignity Act’s underlying premises is that preventive and non-punitive intervention in response to incidents of discrimination and/or harassment, where appropriate, can be  an effective way to foster school environments free from harassment and discrimination (see Education Law ยงยง10, 13).  Schools are, therefore, encouraged to use a wide range of intervention measures to address discrimination and/or harassment, including, where appropriate, restorative practices, conflict resolution, peer-mediation, and counseling, rather than over-relying on exclusionary methods of discipline, such as suspension.

Understanding discipline as a "teachable moment" is fundamental to a positive approach to discipline.  It has been in particular the experience of the New York City Department of Education that restorative approaches can help schools prevent or deal with conflict before it escalates; build relationships and empower community members to take responsibility for the well-being of others; increase the social skills of those who have harmed others; address underlying factors that lead youth to engage in inappropriate behavior and build resiliency; provide wrong doers with opportunities to be accountable to those they have harmed; and enable them to repair the harm to the extent possible.

Taking a restorative approach to discipline changes the fundamental questions that are asked when a behavioral incident occurs. Instead of asking who is to blame and how will those engaged in the misbehavior be punished, the restorative approach asks four key questions:

  • What happened?
  • Who was harmed or affected by the behavior?
  • What needs to be done to make things right?
  • How can people behave differently in the future?

Restorative practices may include:

  • Circle Process: Circles may be used as a regular practice in which a group of students (or faculty or students and faculty) participates.  A circle can be used in response to a particular issue that affects the community.  The circle process can enable a group to get to know one another, build relationships, establish understanding and trust, create a sense of community, learn how to make decisions together, develop agreements for the mutual good, resolve difficult issues, etc.  Circles can be effective as both a prevention and intervention strategy.
  • Restorative Enquiry/Restorative Discussion: This method uses active listening and other conflict resolution communication skills.  Using a collaborative negotiation process enables an individual to talk through an issue or conflict directly with the person with whom s/he disagrees to arrive at a mutually satisfactory resolution.
  •  Target/Offender Mediation: During mediation, an individual or group acknowledges s/he has harassed, bullied, or discriminated against another person and both the person who engaged in the behavior and the person who was harassed, bullied, or discriminated against agree to see how the incident(s) can be put right by working with an impartial, third party mediator who has received specific training in target/offender mediation.  Regardless of the circumstances, the mental and physical health, safety and welfare of the individual who was harassed, bullied, or discriminated against is of paramount importance when considering this option in a school setting and should not be used when the offender (individual who has initiated the incident) may intimidate or coerce or attempt to intimidate or coerce the other person.
  • Formal Restorative Conference: A circle process in which individuals who have acknowledged engaging in the behavior are brought together with those who have been harassed, bullied, or discriminated against.  A formal restorative conference is facilitated by an individual who has received specific training in the process.  In addition to the individuals who have been directly involved, both sides may bring supporters who have also been affected by the incident to the circle.  The purpose of the conference is for both parties to understand each other’s perspective and come to a mutual agreement, which will repair the harm as much as it is able to be repaired.  Regardless of the circumstances, the mental and physical health, safety and welfare of the individual who was harassed, bullied, or discriminated against is of paramount importance when considering this option in a school setting.

A restorative approach emphasizes values of empathy, respect, honesty, acceptance, responsibility, and accountability.   Restorative approaches:

  • Provide ways to effectively address behavior and other complex school issues;
  • Offer a supportive environment that can improve learning;
  • Improve safety by preventing future harm;
  • Offer alternatives to suspension and expulsion.

A restorative approach can provide opportunities to socialize youth and teach them how to be productive members of society. The discipline process includes learning how to control one’s impulses and honing pro-social skills.  Disciplinary responses to misbehavior may also employ varying levels of support and control.  Paul McCold and Ted Watchel have described four general approaches to social discipline: neglectful, permissive, punitive, and restorative. (11) Restorative discipline combines strict control and strong support of youth, and approaches wrongdoing in a way that is not punitive, neglectful, or permissive.  The following diagram developed by McCold and Watchel illustrates this principle:

Restorative discipline graphic

According to the International Institute for Restorative Practices (12), the:

“restorative approach, with high control and high support, confronts and disapproves of wrongdoing while affirming the intrinsic worth of the offender. The essence of restorative justice is collaborative problem-solving. Restorative practices provide an opportunity for those who have been most affected by an incident to come together to share their feelings, describe how they were affected and develop a plan to repair the harm done or prevent a reoccurrence. The restorative approach is reintegrative, allowing the offender to make amends and shed the offender label.”

Inclusion in the disciplinary process is a basic tenet of restorative justice. Students, as well as teachers, should be included as members of the school community.   Restorative disciplinary practices within schools are more supportive, inclusive, and educational than other approaches. In reaching the goals of restorative discipline, experts recommend:

  • Creating caring climates to support healthy communities;
  • Understanding the harm and developing empathy for both the person engaged in the behavior and person who was harassed, bullied, or discriminated against;
  • Listening and responding to the needs of the person engaged in the behavior and person who was harassed, bullied, or discriminated against;
  • Encouraging accountability and responsibility through personal reflection within a collaborative environment;
  • Reintegrating the person engaged in the behavior into the community as a valuable, contributing member of society;
  • Changing the system when it contributes to harm.

Fostering a restorative school culture

Schools may implement restorative approach in varying degrees, from a single program to a permeating school philosophy. A restorative approach can be implemented through daily practices used by everyone in the school, from administrators to students, or as a formal program available to students who have violated school rules.

Restorative practices involve youth and promote awareness, understanding, sharing, and learning. Classroom discussions may be held to set behavior standards. Rather than a teacher prescribing rules of conduct, students are given the opportunity to explore and determine how to create a positive community. Routine classroom meetings allow students to share their feelings, discuss classroom issues and learn how to solve problems in a democratic setting.

 Recommendations to implement good restorative practices in schools include:

  • Fostering awareness on how all have been affected by behavior and encourage expression of feelings;
  • Avoiding scolding or lecturing.
  • Avoiding a culture of humiliation.
  • Actively involving students.
  • Accepting ambiguity. Fault and responsibility may be unclear.
  • Separating the deed from the doer, recognize students’ worth and disapprove of their wrongdoing.
  • Seeing instances of wrongdoing and conflict as an opportunity for learning. Turn negative incidents into constructive ones by building empathy and a sense of community.

Youth can be included in all aspects of discipline, including preventing and dealing with conflict. Classroom problem-solving that incorporates restorative practices may include:

  • Developing trusting and caring relationships between adults and students.
  • Fostering skills to resolve conflict, such as listening, empathy, critical thinking, and self-control.
  • Determining what has happened and why by asking questions and listening to the answers.
  • Maximizing student involvement in deciding how to resolve problems.
  • Resolving problems with open-ended questions, exploring different responses, reflecting on motives, and allowing for disagreement.
  • Assisting students in considering ways to make amends for misbehavior, such as replacing, repairing, cleaning, or apologizing.
  • Following up to determine whether the problem was solved or more work needs to be done.
  • Encouraging reflection.
  • Allowing flexibility for different students, needs, and situations.
  • Minimizing the punitive impact when control is necessary to repair the relationship and address underlying issues.


Conflict resolution refers to various processes that may be used to facilitate resolution of a conflict between two or more disputants. Most non-violent conflict resolution falls into one of the following four categories:

Input and Control over the Outcome of Dispite

Collaborative Negotiation: The most direct method of conflict resolution is collaborative negotiation in which one or both disputants knows and understands the strategies and skills needed to talk through a conflict.

An individual trained in collaborative negotiation knows how to facilitate a direct conversation with the person with whom s/he is in conflict. During the collaborative negotiation process, s/he will articulate her/his position and underlying need(s), surface the position and underlying need(s) of the person with whom s/he is in conflict and reframe the conflict into a mutual problem to be resolved by both parties.

The goal of a collaborative negotiation is to arrive at a mutually agreed upon resolution that meets the needs of both parties.

Mediation: Mediation is a collaborative negotiation which is facilitated by a neutral third party - the trained mediator.

At the start of the mediation, a trained mediator will lay out the ground rules for the mediation process. During the mediation, the mediator will facilitate a conversation between the two disputants to surface the position and underlying need(s) of each person and reframe the conflict into a mutual problem to be resolved by both parties.

The goal of a mediation is for the two disputants to arrive at a mutually agreed upon resolution that meets the needs of both parties.

Peer Mediation:  Peer mediation involves an impartial, third party mediator (in a school, a student who has been trained to serve as a peer mediator) facilitates the negotiation process between parties who are in conflict so that they can come to a mutually satisfactory resolution.  Mediation recognizes that there is validity to the conflicting points of view that the disputants bring to the table and helps disputants work out a solution that meets both sets of needs.  Disputants must choose to use mediation and must come to the process willingly.  Mediation is often not used in situations in which one individual has been victimized by another.

The Difference between Negotiation and Mediation versus Arbitration and Litigation:

In both the negotiation and mediation process, the resolution of the conflict is arrived at by the individuals who are personally involved in the conflict. In arbitration and litigation, the decision as to how a conflict is resolved is removed from the individuals involved.

  • In arbitration, a neutral third party hears both sides of the conflict and decides upon the resolution. While each disputant provides his or her side of the story, neither disputant has input or control over the final resolution.
  • Disputants in litigation are further removed from the resolution process.  Generally they do not present their own case. In most instances, a disputant’s case is presented by an attorney and regardless of whether or not a disputant represents her/himself in litigation process; s/he has no control over the resolution. Either a judge or jury ultimately decides the final resolution.

Guidance for a Progressive Student Discipline Process

The Code of Conduct shall include:  a progressive model of student discipline to respond to acts of harassment, bullying, including cyberbullying, and/or discrimination that includes measured, balanced and age-appropriate remedies and procedures that make appropriate use of prevention, intervention discipline, and education, and considers among other things, the nature and severity of the student perpetrator’s behavior(s), the developmental age of the student perpetrator, the student perpetrator’s history of behaviors in violation of the code of conduct and other extenuating circumstances, and the impact the student perpetrator’s behaviors had on the individual(s) who was physically injured or emotionally harmed.   This progressive model of student discipline shall be consistent with the other provisions of the code of conduct. 

Guiding Principles

  1. Disciplinary action shall be in response to alleged violations of the student code of conduct established and approved by local board policies.
  2. Due process procedures required by federal and state law will be followed. The degree of disciplinary action will be in proportion to the severity of the misbehavior.
  3. Each incident of inappropriate behavior is unique in terms of situational variables. Similarly, disciplinary action will reflect consideration of a number of factors specific to the student involved in the incident.
  4. The model will strive for a safe and orderly student learning environment through a systematic process of behavioral correction.  Inappropriate behaviors are followed by consequences. Inappropriate behaviors are substituted with those that are consistent with the character traits identified in character and civility training required by New York State law.
  5. Students in violation of the code of conduct cannot be assumed to have had sufficient instruction and/or practice in utilizing the particular character trait(s) related to the misbehavior. As such, disciplinary action should include engaging students in activities/events that reflect desirable character traits.
  6. Parents are viewed as integral partners to be utilized when addressing students' misbehavior.
  7. It is preferable to reassign disruptive students to isolated and individual oriented in-school suspension programs or alternative educational settings rather than to suspend or expel such students from school.

Alternatives to Exclusionary Discipline

The Southern Poverty Law Center has identified several successful alternatives to suspension or other forms of exclusionary discipline for student misbehavior that does not require removing the student from school in order to ensure safety of the school community.

Emphasize Behavioral Expectations

  • Reemphasize behavioral expectations at the time the student misbehaves.
  • Employ behavior contracts to establish and reinforce behavioral expectations.

Collaborate with Parents/Guardians

  • Create a protocol for involving parents in discipline issues.
  • Hold a meeting with a student and his or her parent/guardian to provide feedback on misbehavior.

Model Constructive Conflict Resolution

  • Mediate conflicts between students and/or students and staff.
  • Use restorative justice circles to resolve disputes.

Address the Root Cause of Misbehavior

  • Require students to attend workshops on anger management or building self-esteem.
  • Refer misbehaving students to a counselor, social worker, or behavior interventionist and/or arrange for students to receive services from a counseling, mental health, or mentoring agency.

Keep Students in Schools

  • Require students to attend in-school suspension during lunchtime, afterschool, or on weekends, during which time they work on homework. Do not remove students from class as punishment for being tardy or misbehaving.
  • Adjust the student’s class schedule or placement to maximize academic and behavioral improvement.

Keep Students Accountable

  • Match at-risk students with an adult mentor at school with whom they can check in at the beginning and end of each school day.
  • Require daily or weekly check-ins with an administrator for a set period of time.

Use Alternatives that Teach Good Behavior

  • Require students to perform community service.
  • Require students to engage in a reflective activity, such as writing an essay about his/her misbehavior and how it affected others and/or the school community, and work with students to choose an appropriate way for him/her to apologize and make amends to those harmed or offended (Restorative Justice).





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Last Updated: March 11, 2014