Keeping the Peace in Schools: Power Matters
Another month, and another troubling cell phone video of a police officer attacking a student in a school has gone viral. This time it’s in San Antonio, joining earlier videos from Baltimore and South Carolina depicting adults using violence to control students.
These troubling episodes stand in stark contrast to how we treat both young people and adults in Fairhaven School. They also present an opportunity to contrast the underlying assumptions of schooling.
Judicial Committee listens to testimony and writes a report.
At Fairhaven and all Sudbury schools, anybody who thinks somebody else has broken a rule can fill out a Grievance form and bring the allegation to the Judicial Committee (JC). Every day at noon, the duly elected JC Clerks then gather all of the grievances and call JC to order, commencing a daily manifestation of our remarkable system of keeping the peace at school.
With a full commitment to due process and fairness, JC investigates each case in a public meeting, hearing from plaintiffs, defendants and witnesses. The Clerks write a report, and then the committee votes on the report, charges and sentences. All students and staff take turns serving on JC, and defendants can plead not guilty and appeal JC decisions.
Judicial Committee members discuss potential charges for a case.
Hopefully, the contrast to authoritarian application and enforcement of rules in traditional schools is obvious. Our basic premise at Fairhaven School is that young people have basic rights and responsibilities, and the JC functions to maintain law and order while honoring this belief. Using violence to control students would be anathema to our egalitarian beliefs. What happens to an adult who breaks the rules? Just like a student accused of rule-breaking, adults are also brought before the JC.
The video from nearby Baltimore shows an officer flipping a student over in her desk because she refused to put away her cell phone. The other day, a student in our JC happened to be looking at her cell phone, and the contrast was breathtaking. The JC Clerk, a fellow student, reminded her that this is against the rules (enacted in our weekly School Meeting by staff and students), and asked her to put it away. She complied, and the absence of drama spoke volumes.