Law & Order: Alpine Valley School

In the Alpine Valley School Family Handbook, we provide the following brief description of Judicial Committee:

The Judicial Committee (JC) investigates complaints of alleged Lawbook violations written by School Meeting Members. Those charged may plead guilty and receive a sentence, or they may plead not guilty and take their case to trial. The JC maintains records of its investigations and submits a report for review at the next School Meeting.

While this overview accurately describes the functions of Judicial Committee, the reality of these meetings can be a little more difficult to imagine.

In 2014 we recorded a mock judicial committee which you can watch here. It’s a great example of how Judicial Committee actually operates

The key players in Judicial Committee are:

  • J.C. Chair: This elected official is in charge of running the daily meeting of the Judicial Committee. The chair’s responsibilities include: setting the agenda for the meeting, gathering the School Meeting Members serving for the day, calling the meeting to order, calling for votes during the meeting, placing the deciding vote in votes that end in ties, and adjourning the meeting.  
  • Secretary: The Secretary is in charge of recording the minutes for the meeting. This includes recording who is serving on each case, the complainant, the defendant, the official case summary, and all votes regarding charges, sentencing, appeals, and pleas.  
  • Voting Members: The J.C. is comprised of at least four voting members for every case. Typical J.C.’s are comprised of a younger student, a middle student, an older student, and a staff member.  
  • Complainant: The complainant is the one who writes up a complaint to be heard by the J.C.  
  • Defendant: The defendant is the person who allegedly broke a school law.  
  • Witness: A witness is somebody who saw all or part of the event that was written up.

During the Judicial Committee meetings, which happen at 11am each school day (when there are cases), the Chair calls the meeting to order and then reviews the cases of the day. Cases are heard based on the availability of the complainant and defendant, which is why daily attendance is such a priority for us! If a School Meeting Member writes up a case and then does not come in to school the next day their case is delayed until they are on campus again, which can create issues in remembering what happened in the first place. JC tries to hear all cases in a timely manner, so that the event is fresh in everyone’s minds.

After hearing testimony from both the complainant, the defendant, and any witnesses, JC then puts down an objective view of what happened in the case in a document called the summary. Based on the summary, the JC determines whether or not the defendants in question broke one of the school’s laws as laid out in the AVS Lawbook. If JC does vote to charge, the defendant can then choose to plead guilty (which would result in a sentence) or not guilty, which would result in a trial to be scheduled at another time. When creating a sentence, emphasis is placed on mindfulness or on restoration, trying to create a sentence that will help the individual be aware of their behavior (such as running in the halls) or provide restitution in some way (such as doing labor to improve the campus).  

After that, it's up to the individual to internalize the lesson of the sentence and (hopefully) curtail their law-breaking behavior. Sometimes this happens right away, and sometimes it takes a repeat of this experience in order for the law to sink in. Other times, it's the law that needs to change, which might necessitate a motion to School Meeting about modifying the law in question, which is any School Meeting Member's prerogative.  No matter the outcome, the process of participating in Judicial Committee, whether as an alleged violator or a member of the Committee, is a valuable experience for all involved.

Want to learn more? We just published an episode of the Alpine Valley School Podcast on the subject of Judicial Committee - check it out here!

Marc GallivanComment