(Post contributed by Nathan Siebenga, Vice Principal of Student Life at Hamilton District High School, Hamilton, Ontario – thanks Nathan for sharing!)
Three grade 10 boys leave campus property to go and get some treats at the “Hasty Market”. Running a little late on their way back to school, they come across two garbage bags of leaves. One boy thinks nothing of the bags as he is more worried about the trouble for being late. Another wonders where the leaves came from originally. The last boy has an idea. “Hey, let’s take these to school and fill the downstairs bathroom with them!”
“Huh?” says the one boy. “What … ah, okay, whatever?” says the other.
Now motivated and marching faster, the boys take the bags of leaves back to school. Being late for the first afternoon class meant there were very few people in the hallway, so they slipped in the side door avoiding the main-office. Once in the bathroom, they emptied the bags everywhere leaving it with a different smell. With hearts pounding, the boys got rid of the garbage bags above the ceiling tiles and prepared their get away. They peer down both hallways to see that the coast is clear and then proceed to step out into the hall. They enter the main office with their veins coursing with adrenaline. Trying to keep straight faces they ask for late slips. Warily the receptionist behind the counter asks, “What happened?” “We had to leave” one of the boys says, putting the other two into stitches. The receptionist hands out the 3 late slips and ponders the event by making a mental note.
Minutes later a distraught student comes into the office to share with reception that there are leaves all over the bathroom. “Did you hear that, Mr. VanPrincin?” the receptionist calls to the Vice Principal of Students, who was already eagerly standing with nobility in the doorway of his office. After some inquiry by the vice principal the receptionist shares the earlier interaction with the three lads who “had to leave” and their response to this. Mr. VanPrinicin assures the receptionist and the distraught young lad that he will take care of it from here.
Later that day, Mr. VanPrincin calls down the three boys to his office and we all know what happens next. Or do we?
In this time of advent we often read the Christmas story. The Gospel of John articulates how Christ is the Word and how the Word became flesh and he was full of Grace and Truth. Restorative Justice* is a philosophical approach to discipline that is a shift from traditional punitive responses to misdemeanors and discipline cases. In a world that is pushing towards “zero tolerance” for any misconduct at school, restorative justice suggests a shift in this thinking. The shift of restorative justice does not exclude individuals, but rather includes, and surrounds, the involved parties with their community in a process that looks at the harm that was caused. Its focus is on the needs of the victim and the offender as a way of making the community right again.
This philosophical shift for discipline in schools is right. It is not easy and there are obstacles, but it is right. It is right because at the heart of restorative practices is the pursuit of Truth while offering Grace.