Justice of the peace in elementary school?
January 5, 2012 5:13 PM   Subscribe

I just found out my 8 year old stepson has to talk to a justice of the peace about an incident that took place about a month ago. I am uncertain what his rights are in this situation. The incident was that coins rolled onto the floor. My stepson and another child ran after it. My stepson pushed the other kid so he could get to it first, and the kid bruised his eye. They were and are still friends. My stepson was suspended for three days. My question is: does he have to talk to the justice of the peace and can I or his mother be present? This is in Michigan.
posted by jkafka to Education (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Ask the mods to anonymize this question, then talk to a lawyer.
posted by box at 5:20 PM on January 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Who told you he had to talk to a justice of the peace? Is this a school policy? I ask mainly because in juvenile court proceedings, children have the right to be represented by an attorney, and parents are more or less required to be present.

I'm thinking this might be a school district "make the kids see the seriousness of their behavior" thing, and your rights there are very, very different than they are in a juvenile court setting.
posted by SMPA at 5:21 PM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

The principal left a voicemail for his mother. She stressed that it was not necessary for a parent to be present. She also sounded real nice, and suggested this was just to make sure everything is fine between the two children, but my wife doesn't trust her.
posted by jkafka at 5:23 PM on January 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

Specific citation for the court thing:
In In re Gault, 387 US 1, 41 (1967), the United States Supreme Court established a juvenile’s right to counsel in delinquency proceedings:
“We conclude that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires that in respect of proceedings to determine delinquency which may result in commitment to an institution in which the juvenile’s freedom is curtailed, the child and his parents must be notified of the child’s right to be represented by counsel retained by them, or if they are unable to afford counsel, that counsel will be appointed to represent the child.”
(Michigan Juvenile Justice Benchbook)
posted by SMPA at 5:24 PM on January 5, 2012

The very simplest thing to do is call the principal and ask if you and your attorney may be present, and if the conversation will be on the record. Chances are she will say something like "this is actually just a mediation session; nothing gets recorded; it's going to be short and sweet and boring but you can come if you want."

You could push really hard - get a copy of the school's disciplinary policy, talk to the school board about exactly what all this entails, actually hire a lawyer to be present. I personally wouldn't, given that you've already accepted the suspension. Just asking will save a lot of effort.

I'd also personally be present, mostly because I don't much like the idea of them saying "you really ought to know this is happening" and then adding "but it's not like you have to be there." As a school official I'd offer to have the parents there in any kind of a formal session, but then I'm a paranoid sort of person.

And it's not like it costs you much to just show up. You can always insist the meeting stop if you get freaked out by whatever is happening.
posted by SMPA at 5:29 PM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do NOT allow this child to talk to a "justice of the peace" with out a parent being present. Never, no way.

Most areas do not even have a JP any longer, it is a strange and outdated position, usually filled by someone with limited or no knowledge or credentials in any useful area. This is NOT the person you want talking to a kid.

Something is strange here, from the fact that a voice mail was left instead of a conversation, that this event happened a month ago and this process is just happening.

A resounding NO to the school, tell them you won't allow it, if they so much as hesitate to accept that mandate, contact an attorney.
posted by HuronBob at 5:57 PM on January 5, 2012 [17 favorites]

Michigan lawyer here. There is no such thing as a "justice of the peace" in this state. You need to have someone knowledgeable find out what the hell is going on.

No government official should have a right to speak to an 8-year-old without his parent present. As the step-mother (I assume), you may not qualify.
posted by yclipse at 6:31 PM on January 5, 2012 [25 favorites]

I'd strongly decline to allow my child talk to any authority figure in this type of situation based on a voicemail, too.

I think you should call the principal and say "No Thank You." Offer to come in for a meeting with her to discuss it further.

It sounds like maybe this is some kind of school policy following a suspension? But EVERYTHING about the punishment sounds overblown and everything about the voicemail and lack of interaction with you, the parents, sounds unsatisfying and below what is practical or respectful.

Your child is 8 years old. No way, not with so little notice and so little explanation. Especially for something so trivial between 8 year olds who are still friends.

posted by jbenben at 6:37 PM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

It sounds like there may be some sort of "restorative justice" situation taking place here.

I doubt it's anything sinister, but I'd suggest that you or another parent is present.
posted by davey_darling at 6:45 PM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I wonder if this is a district hearing officer? Students in public schools have due process rights related to punishments that go on their "permanent record" (suspension and expulsion) and in some cases this includes a hearing with a hearing officer appointed by the district, which is usually a local attorney otherwise unaffiliated with the district.

If it's any sort of legal proceeding with any sort of real implication, you have a right to be present and a parent absolutely should be present. If this is a "real" legal proceeding where he has due process rights, you MUST be served notice of the hearing.

I think davey_darling might be right that it's restorative justice with some kind of informal process. I'd make the principal explain it until it's VERY clear what exactly is going on.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:50 PM on January 5, 2012

Your wife has every right in the world to be present at anything that involves her 8-year-old son. Depending on the custody arrangements, you may or may not be allowed to be present. No matter what anyone says (including the principal, lawyers, etc.), I would absolutely be there for whatever this thing is. Wild horses couldn't keep me away.
posted by cooker girl at 6:53 PM on January 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

Could this be some kind of student-run process? The judicial equivalent to student council?
posted by Sweetie Darling at 6:57 PM on January 5, 2012

Do not under any circumstances let these people have any sort of bizarre hearing or whatever they're ginning up without, at the very least, one of you two parents present.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 7:11 PM on January 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

You know, if you don't understand what's going on, there's no chance in heck that your kid does.
posted by endless_forms at 7:34 PM on January 5, 2012 [6 favorites]

I listened to the message twice after seeing davey_darling's post. The principal used the exact words, "restorative justice piece" twice in the message. Sounds a lot like justice of peace if you have never heard of it, and I think that's why my wife was confused. It also sounds like the principle had gone over the "restorative justice piece" with her previously, but my wife has no recollection of it. Thank you everyone.
posted by jkafka at 8:15 PM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

There should not be any involvement of an 8-year-old without his parent, regardless of what it is or what it's called.

This sounds like some type of touchy-feely faux-Zen approach to dealing with conflict. I would want to know what policies the school board has adopted that calls for this. It does not smell good.
posted by yclipse at 8:25 PM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

It sounds like everyone is saying that a parent should attend. I agree with this, but I wanted to offer a different point of view. An 8 year old may be scared, so beyond legal ramifications or anything it might be comforting for the kid to have someone he knows and trust around if this is a new situation for him where he does not know how to act. In a supportive way rather than a protective paranoid way.
posted by Jaelma24 at 1:12 AM on January 6, 2012

Also, make it absolutely clear to your 8-year-old that you are on his side supporting him (even if he did something wrong, explain that it was wrong but still that you are on his side). I told the school counselor never to call me to her office again after she'd been making my life miserable*, and she called my mom and asked for a meeting between all of us, and my mom forced me to go. It felt awful. The next time the counselor wanted to talk to all of us (over the fact that I'd dumped a boy and hurt his precious feelings), my mom finally told her to just mind her own business and leave me alone.

(*This particular counselor was of the belief that if you told the other children about someone's problem, they would stop teasing the troubled child. This counselor also somehow got it in her head that I was gay, falsely, due to an ex-friend trying to get me in trouble, and went around telling everyone that I was. I was in a very small school and this turned my life to shit nearly immediately.)
posted by IndigoRain at 2:19 AM on January 6, 2012

jkafka, thanks for clearing that up, it makes more sense now. Restorative Justice as a concept popped its head up a few years ago, frequently as part of Juvenile Court proceedings, sometimes as part of a diversion kind of effort to keep kids out of the system.

You should determine if this is a school based process, or perhaps part of a court run diversion effort prior to entering into the meeting.

But, no matter what, a parent should be in attendance at this event.
posted by HuronBob at 3:37 AM on January 6, 2012

I had to chuckle when I read "restorative justice piece" as the use of the word "piece" has become so overused by school principals and administrators in my neck of the woods that teachers (somewhat) openly mock those using it (a fun time killer during staff meetings is to tally the number of times the word is uttered).
posted by davey_darling at 8:14 AM on January 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think everyone has given you good advice here. "Restorative justice" sounds very melodramatic for what actually occured here. Even if your stepson can't suffer any legal consequences, there are other considerations. I hope you and/or your wife or his bio-dad are still planning to be there to support him. Good luck!
posted by peep at 9:21 AM on January 6, 2012

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