WNYT and the Albany Times Union reported on May 29 (see articles here and here) of a bullying incident at Albany’s Hackett Middle School, that resulted in the victim being removed from the school and the offenders receiving (as of yet) no reprimand.
In this situation of school bullying, having the victim(s) “participate in a ‘sensitivity circle’ to talk about how the incident made her (them) feel” is not an adequate solution. This Circle Process approach to Restorative Justice seems to be lacking some very important principles of the practice. To restore justice in this situation, it would be good to see through a lens that focuses on the victim’s needs, as suggested by Howard Zehr (Little Book of Restorative Justice, 2002). These are important things to consider:
- Crime is a violation of people and relationships.
- Violations create obligations.
- Justice involves victims, offenders, and community members in an effort to put things right.
- Central focus: victim needs and offender responsibility for repairing harm.
Some important questions to ask:
- Who has been hurt?
- What are their needs?
- Whose obligations are these?
As reported in the Times Union article,
“U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights concluded that race-based harassment had occurred and that district officials should have recognized that. The department also found that the district did not appropriately discipline the harassers or provide a viable remedy.”
“They failed every student in that school,” said Henri Williams, the girl’s father. “It’s not just about the black kids, it’s about the white kids knowing what’s OK.”
The article by the Times Union did not mention if the victim found the resolution to be adequate, nor did it mention what and how the offenders are taking positive action to restore justice (maybe they could research, write & give speeches concerning the trauma caused by structural violence such as institutionalized racism).
These are some important thoughts to consider.
The administration at Hackett Middle school has been faulted for not appropriately disciplining the harassers or providing a viable remedy. This could be the result of inadequate training. New York State Higher Education institutions are lacking in course offerings in the very important and growing fields of study of Restorative Practices and Peace Studies. If NYS higher education institutions do not offer adequate learning opportunities in these important fields of study, we need to ask ourselves,
“Who’s obligation is it to meet this need?”
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