By Mark Boshnack Staff Writer
The Daily Star
---- — Oneonta Middle School is the site of an upcoming conference to explore a new way of helping teens get beyond their mistakes, two involved said Tuesday.
The Family Resource Network and Oneonta City School district are partnering to bring a nationally known area resident, Duke Fisher, to lead the Restorative Justice workshop. Fisher in a media release described the workshop as a process where individuals who have violated policies or committed crimes “meet with those they have harmed to make things right.”
The event is scheduled to run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday and Monday* at the middle school.
Principal Kevin Johnson said the school district did summer training for 18 staff members on the process, so when he was approached by the Family Resource Network about the conference, the district was willing to be involved.
The agency acts as a regional support network for disabled students and their families.
Family Resource Executive Director Meghann Andrews-Whitaker said the idea of punitive punishment is a thing of the past. Through restorative practices, “we want to give people a way to go forward” in a less-harmful and more-meaningful direction. Something drastic could involve the legal system, but they would be a partner in the process, she said.
A lot of work has been done on it, on the college level, she said, and this is an effort to see how restorative justice can be used in public schools.
Under the process, when an incident occurs, ranging from things as diverse as a student athlete breaking a commitment not to drink alcohol or a student threatening the school with a bomb, a new approach is recommended. Instead of the “blame game,” she said, a group representing all those affected would come together. The result would be that the person would understand the harm they caused, the role all people have played in creating the circumstances and how it can be addressed so all can move forward.
“It’s captured my imagination and given a reason for optimism on keeping more kids involved with school,” Johnson said. Students that struggle are often those that have the weakest ties to the school. They can be “estranged” further, when they make a variety of mistakes, by removing them from school or taking away reasons they have for being there.
Restorative justice offers an opportunity to keep them connected while setting right what they have done, through a series of actions and punishments, Johnson said. Suspensions and involvement with law enforcement might be necessary in some cases. But the important thing is that at some point ties to the community need to be rebuilt.
“We can’t just throw them away,” he said.
About 40-50 people are expected at the conference, which is open to the public. People seeking to register or learn more information can contact Michelle Zuk at the Family Resource Network at 432-0001, firstname.lastname@example.org, or by visiting familyrn.org.
*Editor's note: The dates of this conference were corrected at 6:30 a.m. Dec. 4.