Abstract: Implemeting Restorative Practices in Colorado Schools (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

219P Implemeting Restorative Practices in Colorado Schools

Friday, January 18, 2019
Continental Parlors 1-3, Ballroom Level (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Ceema Samimi, MSSW, MPA, Doctoral Student, University of Denver, Denver, CO
Shannon Sliva, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Denver, Denver, CO

Denver Public Schools has been cited as a national model for implementing restorative practices (RP). These practices provide an alternative to exclusionary discipline (e.g. suspensions and expulsions), which is disproportionately applied to students of color and other vulnerable students. This exclusion increases the chance of a student becoming involved in the juvenile or criminal justice system, as well as other negative outcomes. While Denver is lauded for its efforts in this arena, questions remain regarding how and whether RP are being implemented in Colorado’s 178 other school districts.  In Spring of 2018, researchers at the University of Denver partnered with the Colorado Restorative Justice Council (The Council) to evaluate the state of restorative justice practices and implementation across Colorado. One objective of this evaluation was an examination of restorative practices and implementation in schools.


A convenience sample was recruited through contacts from The Council, as well as the Colorado Department of Education. Personal contacts were then added and snowball sampling initiated. Of Colorado’s 179 school districts, 22 were identified as implementing some level of restorative practices. Community mapping was conducted through two components. The first involved a closed, online electronic questionnaire, a link to which was provided in an email detailing objectives of the project.  The purpose of the questionnaire was to gather information on the current practices being implemented as well as to map RP availability geographically and conceptually. It also provided quantitative data on RP in schools throughout Colorado. After a consultation period of four weeks, responding programs were added to the sample for the second component. The second component comprised of phone interviews with administrators in each identified school district with the purpose of determining details of RP programs as well as level of implementation. Interviews were completed over a period of two weeks in the spring of 2018. Districts were categorized into low, medium, or high implementing. Descriptive statistics were analyzed using SPSS v24  and qualitative data were coded and summarized using Atlas.ti v7.


Analysis revealed that districts receiving financial support from the State Department of Education or elsewhere implemented more developed restorative practices than districts that did not receive funding. Some participants described the RP efforts in their district as “passion projects” and expressed concern that the efforts would stall out without funding. The data suggest that administrators play a key role in the implementation of restorative practices in schools. Districts categorized as high implementing were generally smaller than those categorized as low or medium implementing, with some districts consisting of only one school (grades K-12).


Findings highlight the importance of financial and structural support for restorative practices throughout Colorado schools. Future studies could explore implementation of restorative practices while taking into account Colorado’s diverse cultural settings and characteristics. Social workers are uniquely positioned to advocate for increased support for restorative practices on the structural and policy levels. Both social work practitioners and researchers can advocate for restorative practices throughout Colorado schools, which would advance equal opportunity for students.