Thursday, March 03, 2005

The Jury Is Out: Students Run Own Court In Maryland High School

J. Murchison pleads a case.
In an East Baltimore, Maryland high school, students run their-own disciplinary "court" that features lawyers, judges, and yes, even juries. According to The Baltimore Sun, School No. 426 has developed a process whereby students handle a variety of minor disciplinary infractions:

Since it was established in November, the East Baltimore school's Student Court has handled about two dozen trials, including one involving two students who fought during an assembly attended by several Ravens players, an incident that deeply embarrassed the school.

Courts run by teenagers have existed in schools and communities across the country, including in the Baltimore region. Some teen courts handle nonschool offenses and serve as alternatives to the criminal justice system, giving young offenders a taste of the courtroom without its dire consequences. Others, like the one at School No. 426, located in the Lake Clifton High School complex, aim to create a sense of order and community within a student body.

"We're trying to build a professional culture here," said Principal Tricia Rock, who saw a similar court at a school in the Bronx, N.Y., and decided to ask her school's law teacher, Karen Ndour, to start one. With some of the responsibility for discipline transferred to the Student Court, Rock said, suspensions at the 300-student school have been lower this year - 35 as of last month, compared with about 80 at the same time last year.

Apparently, in cases where the classroom teacher has referred a student for discipline, the issue is not guilt or innocence, (as the student in "adjudicated" guilty) but the degree of punishment. Even though this idea has been around a while, the article does reveal a couple of new twists.

The whole piece makes for interesting reading, and can be seen (reg. required) here.

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