Putting Kids in Charge of the Rules


Sometimes people assume that schools like ours don’t have any rules. We do--currently, 28 pages of them! You won’t find a dress code or any rules about asking permission to go to the bathroom. You will find detailed explanations of how school meeting is run and how chores work. All the rules are voted on by the community as a whole, including the students.

Of course, not everyone follows the rules all the time. When someone breaks a rule, they might get “written up.” Anyone in the school can write up another person. Staff can get written up, too!

These complaints then go to judicial committee, or JC. JC is basically a simplified version of a court system. The committee consists of two student JC clerks, who run the meeting; four other students, who take turns serving on the “jury”; and one staff member. They meet on any day that there are complaints, which usually means a few times per week.

During JC, we look at complaints and handle them according to a process that we’ve all agreed on as fair. We talk to anyone involved in the complaint and question witnesses. We vote on whether to “sentence” the person and what the sentence should be, and the person has a chance to plead guilty or not guilty.

Complaints can range from the mundane (“Elizabeth left her lunch out”) to the serious (“Paul hit me.”) Sometimes newer students are scared of JC or lie to the jury. But after they’ve seen that people are treated fairly, and especially after their first turn on the jury, they start to tell the truth and let go of ideas like “So-and-so ratted me out.”  

If JC thinks that a case requires a suspension, or if the person pleads “not guilty” for something JC thinks they did, the case can get referred to school meeting. There, everyone can state their case and we all vote on the result.

Often, the threat of writing someone up is enough to get that person to stop doing whatever they’re doing. JC takes time out of everyone’s day, so people don’t want to resort to it unless they have to. An alternative to writing someone up is to use mediation to work out things like interpersonal conflicts, either with one of the school’s trained mediators or informally, by asking staff or another student for advice.

Sometimes kids will ask, “Why do we have to have JC?” We don’t have to have it--but JC is the fairest way Sudbury schools have figured out to enforce rules. The details are open to change and debate, and someday, someone may come to school meeting with something better. While no justice system is perfect, JC helps students understand why the process is necessary by being a part of it themselves.