A disruption in a school classroom used to mean a trip to the principal's office for discipline, but not anymore in the Syracuse City School District. Judy Wolfe started Student Court in 2001 and has taken it from an after school program to academic commonplace in the district's middle and high schools.
Student Court is a voluntary alternative to suspension for young people who face disciplinary action in the district. A student who admits their charge can stand trial before a court of his or her peers through their court system, which is established in a government class. The student judges listen to each side of the argument and after careful consideration, recommend a sentence based on the offense. Currently, Student Court has been implemented at Henninger, Corcoran, Fowler high schools, and Ed Smith and Clary middle schools, with hopes of getting all of the high schools on board by next year.
According to Wolfe, Student Court's central over-seer, Student Court is thought of to be an "early intervention" for problems that arise with students. Administration refers certain incidents to Student Court and the student in question is given the option to be judged by his peers.
"Student Court deals with minor issues like disruptive behavior, cell phone use, and inappropriate language," she said. "If they come through and choose to take this route, it's as though it never happened and their slate is wiped clean."
Otherwise, students can choose to take the traditional route and be subject to disciplinary action by the administration. Wolfe says that most students choose to come in front of a court of their peers because many feel more comfortable talking about their issues with them rather than adults.
Students are assigned a defense attorney who will plead their side of the case in front of the three student judges. Members of the court interview the defendant before to get to know them as well as gather information about their redeeming qualities so as not to have a biased opinion based solely on the incident.