By Kia Dasilva
Co-Editor in Chief
On Monday, September 19th, the junior class of SLA met in the drama studio during advisory for an emergency grade-wide meeting about recent thefts in school.
The theft in question, which was recorded on school cameras, happened the previous Friday. A phone and some money were taken out of backpacks that had been left outside the fitness studio during Physical Education class.
Principals Aaron Gerwer and Chris Lehmann met with the student on Friday, and negotiated an outcome of restorative justice: instead of being removed from the school community through suspension or expulsion, the student would publicly apologize to the entire junior class in a grade-group meeting.
Many students did not know the reason for the meeting until they arrived. After Lehmann and Gerwer briefly explained the situation, reactions were varied.
“There was lots of yelling going on. It was very uncomfortable,” said Junior Kaamil Jones after the event.
“There were people who weren’t taking it seriously, and it’s a very serious issue, and then there were also people taking it super seriously. Some people took it too far.”
Several students expressed outraged and verbally objected, including one student who challenged the meeting, viewed by some as “public shaming.”
“Personally, I thought it was wrong. It went against my morals and what I believed in,” said Zahirah Poree.
“I felt like if no one was going to stand up and say anything, then I should”
When asked why she thought it was wrong, she cited a combination of anger towards unfair punishment (although the student had admitted to the theft, she believed the student was innocent), and the way the meeting was conducted.
“I just think that that’s not cool, to publicly humiliate someone like that in front of their peers, their friends, everybody… Then people are going to look at you like ‘What’s wrong with you? Why did you do that?’. It could’ve been handled in a different way.”
Other juniors tried to understand both sides.
“I think they were trying to enforce that we’re a community, and that if you do something wrong to one person, you hurt everyone,” said Junior TK Saccoh.
“I don’t think their intentions were bad, I think that it all became misconstrued.”
In an interview with SLAMedia, Principal Lehmann explained the rationale behind the meeting.
“More and more research shows what we at SLA have long felt – suspensions and expulsions are blunt instrument tools that are minimally effective when it comes to school discipline. Restorative justice, while unquestionably hard, has proven to have a far more positive outcome for both the student and the school community. The public nature of restorative justice creates a need for hard conversations that can be hard in the moment, but SLA has never been a community that has shied away from hard conversations.”
This event comes after a series of thefts last school year, including the theft of Mr. Kay’s iPad and Chromebook from his classroom, and items from many seniors in Mr. Block’s English class during their Art in the Open performances.
A common thread through all these thefts is that property was left unattended. In the case of Ms. Martin’s gym class, she warned students that leaving their backpacks outside the room does not ensure their safety.
Officer Byrd, sitting by the backpacks outside a gym class as a result of the recent theft, gave some words of advice to students:
“I recommend locking your items in a locker that has a lock on it. Stop leaving personal items out in the open. Keep money, laptops, and cellphones close to your person, meaning your body.”