Observations from a Judicial Committee Meeting at Sudbury Valley School

(by Hung Luu)

This week I am visiting Sudbury Valley School (“SVS”) for a few days. On Tuesday, I had a chance to attend the Judicial Committee (“JC”) meeting, which takes place every school day at 11am. The JC consists of two students elected to be Judicial Clerks, one staff member and several other students, which have been assigned to JC duty. Below are some of my observations:

  • Students and staff members take the JC meeting seriously and it was conducted in a professional manner.
  • At the same time the mood of the meeting was relaxed.
  • Both parties the person that is accused of breaking a rule and the person that filed the complaint are allowed to tell their side of the story. E.g., in one case student A accused student B of being mean to her. Student A and student C were climbing a tree. The latter was stuck and she wanted to climb down the tree while student A was in her path. Student B who had observed the scene asked student A to climb down first to make some space. Student A claimed that student B did this in a mean way (“Get down!”) whereas student B maintained that she asked in a polite way (“Can you climb down please?”). Some members of the JC asked questions to clarify the situation, and in the end the JC voted that there was no substance to the complaint because student’s A comments were inconsistent.
  • Most of the other complaints dealt with littering and roughhousing and in each of these cases the sentence was a warning.
  • SVS operates an open campus for students aged 13 and over. Those students are supposed to sign out when they leave the campus. One student who broke this rule for the first time was sentenced to staying on campus for the next 3 school days (of course s/he is allowed to leave at the end of the school day). Another student who was a repeat offender was sentenced to staying on campus for the next 10 school days.
I came away with the impression that the JC is very effective at dealing with infractions at SVS and that it is one of the elements which contributes to maintaining a culture of respect among the members of the community. I think that the JC works so well because the students and staff members buy into the whole process due to its transparency and fairness and because everyone has an opportunity to be involved in making and amending school rules in the first place.