A new look at justice | March 8, 2013 | Pleasanton Weekly | PleasantonWeekly.com |


Pleasanton Weekly

Cover Story - March 8, 2013

A new look at justice

Foothill looks at alternatives to expulsions and suspensions

by Glenn Wohltmann

Youth justice is taking on a new face in Pleasanton.

Foothill High School is poised to begin a program called Restorative Justice, which will allow the victim and perpetrator to meet and talk, surrounded by peers.

Pleasanton School Board Member Jamie Hintzke has been a proponent of the program for years. She's seen it at work as part of her day job at the Alameda County Center for Healthy Schools and Communities.

"If it's done correctly it can have a really profound effect on youth feeling empowered," Hintzke said.

Hintzke compared the process to how a tribe might handle justice. Like the tribe, she said, "You've got to work this stuff out, you've got to live together."

"In the old days, the village wise man or the elder would be the one who would convene a circle, there would be a talking stick -- each person goes around and shares," she said. "I think that in modern times we've lost the importance of what that feels like, to be living together in community. What does that mean? We've lost that."

As an example, Hintzke described a hypothetical situation where a student stole a laptop from a teacher and got caught.

Each party can invite someone to be part of the circle, so the student might choose his brother or a friend and the teacher might opt for a colleague. Students who are trained in restorative justice would round out the group.

A facilitator would typically begin, summing up: "Joey took this laptop from Mrs. Smith and we're here to talk about how that affects all of us," Hintzke said. A witness might describe what she or he saw.

"Then it would shift to a conversation where the teacher might say, 'When I walked into the classroom and I found out my laptop was gone, I felt really violated,'" Hintkze said. "The kid might say, 'I stole the laptop because I know your husband makes a lot of money.' They get a chance to talk about how they were affected personally."

Traditionally, she said, the student might get expelled and the teacher could harbor bad feelings.

Restorative justice, she said, "is not confrontational."

"It's more about everybody sharing their feelings about how the incident affected them, and because you're having this conversation, the healing can begin. The kid can hear from the teacher what it felt like to have her laptop stolen," Hintzke said. "It sounds touchy feely but that's what it is. But when we're dealing with human emotions, why aren't we dealing in a human way, in a touchy-feely way? What I've seen in schools that are using this is that people are moving beyond harm."

Late last year, Foothill received a $20,000 two-year grant to begin restorative justice at the school. Assistant Principal Rich Gorton said about 45% of the grant will go to adding counselor hours, with a bit less than 50% going for staff training and about 10% for materials, mainly books on how restorative justice works.

Foothill will conduct training for administrators, counselors and teachers on restorative circles, Gorton said.

"Really the main thing we're looking at is developing a common approach," he said. "Sometimes people have been trained in different mediation techniques, so this is to get everyone working on the same page with a common philosophy."

Restorative justice at Foothill will be what he described as "adult-facilitated mediation," although students will be involved.

He said the school recently tried an informal approach to restorative justice, around Thanksgiving, after the school had been awarded the grant but before school-wide training had begun. Gorton and a teacher had been to one training session not connected with the grant.

"We had a conflict where students were doing a collaborative project together outside of school and there was a disagreement about the equipment that was being used, who should have access to it -- it was a video camera," Gorton said. "During the course of that disagreement, I came in Monday morning and there was an email from a parent to say what had happened."

He got involved, doing some fact finding to find out who was responsible for the camera and what would have happened if the project wasn't completed on time. Some bullying was involved as well, and Gorton had to make the call whether to go the traditional route, with punitive measures, or take the new approach.

"I said, 'Let's just get everyone in the room and talk things out.' Just with having this conversation, we were able to avoid the punitive element. In the end, everyone saw everyone else's perspective," he said. "In that conversation, as people listened and talked and understood each other's perspective, there was an understanding. Everyone stood up and wished each other a happy Thanksgiving. One parent said, 'We need to more of this kind of communication.'"

There was, he said, no residual impact or hard feelings.

"We did kind of take a risk with it but it seemed like a worthwhile risk," Gorton said. "There were some questions about what would happen with grades, what would have happened with equipment. It seemed like it was worth that risk."

Amador Valley High School is watching how restorative justice at Foothill plays out, according to Amador Vice Principal Lori Vella, who worked at Foothill before transferring to Amador last year.

Foothill is also changing how it handles discipline. The school is creating a suspension diversion program, with a student court of trained volunteers.

"The consequences would be decided by a jury of their peers," Gorton said. "Literally, students would decide about what the consequences should be."

Foothill has already changed the way it deals with detentions.

"We used to have a Saturday school, usually two or three times a month, for students who had medium level discipline violations, things like a forged note or being off campus without a note," he said. "Saturday school was four hours on a Saturday and basically you would have to go in there and sit. You just basically had to do the time."

But that meant teachers were on campus by themselves with no administrators, with 25 to 30 students, and administrators decided that wasn't safe, should a fight break out or if a student had a medical emergency.

"We started thinking, 'Let's do this during the week, and let's add a restorative element to it, let's add a reflective essay,'" Gorton said.

"At first," he said, "We had a lot of students not show up."

About a quarter of the students didn't come; the school suspended them all, and had the parents come in.

That's turned around, Gorton said.

"The essays themselves, that's a little more interactive," he said. "I explain it in terms of 'school is your workplace.'" He gave an example of a student caught using a phone in class: "on a job, you would get written up or possibly even fired."

"Usually by the time we've finished that conversation, they understand they give up the right to use their cell phone, even if they're done with their work, because they're still on the clock, they're still in class," Gorton said.

Each student is given questions to answer, and the school's discipline clerk reviews those answers.

"The student turns in that form and that proves they were in that class, if they leave without turning it in, they don't get credit," Gorton said. If the student doesn't meet expectations, he said, "I would call that student in and have a conversation with them with the expectation that they redo the essay."

There are additional benefits as well.

"Sometimes other things come up," Gorton said, pointing to one student who didn't know how to log into her Zangle account, which shows assignments and grades. "Even when things don't go right, it's an opportunity for administrators to interact with students."

That, he said, gives students the opportunity to build positive relationships with adults.

Training on restorative circles is expected to begin within the next month, with training on suspension diversion, including student training, set to begin in April.


Posted by Allie, a resident of Foothill High School
on Mar 8, 2013 at 8:26 pm

So with this new form of "justice" a student can steal a laptop and all that happens is he/she has a conversation about feelings? The student does not have to worry about being suspended and I guess doesn't have to worry about being arrested either!

Posted by Dennis Hart, a resident of Vintage Hills
on Mar 8, 2013 at 9:20 pm

I'm not so sure that was a "talking stick" that the wise man of the tribe passed around. I think it was peace pipe filled with medicinal marijuana..anyways...I am hoping that next weeks edition will feature a better hypothetical case where the "Restorative Justice" program is used. I'm sure there are thousands of men and women in the jails and prisons across this great United States that wish they had their crimes adjudicated in a "non confrontational" program like "Restorative Justice"..

I'm going across the street to steal my neighbors car...I'm interest to find out how he is going to feel about that, as long as I find out in a non confrontational manner!

I'm moving to another planet.....

Posted by Trevor, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Mar 8, 2013 at 10:18 pm

Very interesting idea, no doubt influenced by South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation approach. Is meant to bring the community together, in contrast to nonreflexive penalties that only drive an additional wedge between perpetrator and aggrieved. On our way toward living in a better planet....

Posted by steve, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Mar 8, 2013 at 10:24 pm

Poor, naive Trevor. Wait until you're a victim of crime and we'll see how you change your tune. By the way, did you hear the top cop on the Bladerunner case in South Africa was dismissed from the force....he's apparently up against his own murder charges from 2010. Yup, South Africa leading the way toa better planet...ask Winnie Mandela....

Posted by Trevor, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Mar 8, 2013 at 10:36 pm

What does the Bladerunner case have to do with S. Africa's Truth and Reconciliation commisions? And why mention Winnie Mandela to the exclusion of her extraordinary husband, Nelson Mandela? Perhaps some people are simply incapable of learning anything at all. The level of ignorance on these threads is really quite astounding.

I don't know why being a victim of a crime should change one's view on this matter, unless one is so bound up in one's own hatred of others and disappointment in their own lives that they're incapable of learning from others. I have been a victim several times, yet I'm not so blinded by hatred that I've closed myself to the possibility of reconciliation.

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore
on Mar 9, 2013 at 11:24 am

As much as I appreciate the growing pains of teens, a thief is a thief.

I guess how I would respond would depend upon the offense, crime. If somebody stole my computer, I wouldn't flip out. However, if I found out who did it, somebody would get knocked out.

I would be willing to talk it out after the fight.

Mess with my garden and my veggies and flowers, you're in deep do-do.

Posted by Steve, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Mar 9, 2013 at 11:32 am

Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Trevor. I'm actually not surprised you consider yourself a victim and that you confirmed how naive you are. Your becoming a victim was no doubt a consequence of your miscalculation of human nature. The fact you let it occur several times sound like the definition of insanity.
You can try, but you'll never change criminals violent tendencies, despite all the feel good, trusting pacifist pablum you are being spoon fed. Keep it up, the left wing in this country needs more victims....it's what they thrive on, keeping you dependent on them to provide programs to protect you, even from yourself.

Posted by Yes on Youth Justice, a resident of Lydiksen Elementary School
on Mar 9, 2013 at 12:31 pm

Trevor asked you a number of questions that seemed reasonable to ask in response to your peculiar comments. But instead of addressing his questions, you chose to insult him. Your response verifies that you're too bound up in your hatred of others and your own reduced sense of worth to engage in reasonable debate. Get help.

Posted by resident, a resident of Downtown
on Mar 9, 2013 at 1:30 pm

If the school thinks that getting these criminals and bullies to hug trees and do a sing-along will turn those thugs around then they need at the very least to force the parents to show up as well. Make mommie and daddie take time off from their golfing and manicures to be there during the week and listen to what their brat has been up to. The only thing that matters to Pleasanton parents and kids is how much money they have and their relative status among their peers. Force all of them to sit there and listen for a whole day and there might be a very small attitude adjustment.
Personally, I'm with Cholo on this one. You steal my stuff I beat the crap out of you. Then we can make nice. Maybe.

Posted by Yes on Youth Justice, a resident of Lydiksen Elementary School
on Mar 9, 2013 at 1:55 pm

... and yet another hater. Lots of unhappy people out there with pent-up rage toward others. Envy? Probably. But one wonders whether perhaps a program such as Youth Justice might have helped the hateful steve, the combative cholo, and the envious resident.

Posted by Mike, a resident of Highland Oaks
on Mar 9, 2013 at 3:41 pm

This is wunderbar for teaching elementary kids about the foundations of right and wrong, but we're way past this for teenagers and adults, who, we now understand, are more likely to manipulate sympathy from the kumbaya moment than they are to actually learn and reform. We see this a whole lot in prisons, too.

While history is full of gems, systems generally evolve and change to correct inadequacies rather than simply because people have forgotten the wisdom of the old ways. For this reason, it's always best to be wary of those who wish to look backwards to find solutions.


Posted by Dennis Hart (Real Name), a resident of Vintage Hills
on Mar 9, 2013 at 4:23 pm

I swore I wasn't gonna get caught up in this but just one more comment, or maybe two.

Steve, I would like to answer the questions posed to you by Trevor(I do not think your comments were peculiar)..I think Steve was pointing to the fact that it is rather apparent that the Bladerunner killed his girlfriend and due to an inept justice system he is already out on bail and will probably beat the rap. The lead detective on the case has charges pending against him for a 2009 case of attempted murder that he thought had been dismissed. So what had the Truth and Reconcillation Commission been doing with that case? Sitting around in tribes passing a talking stick?

I will admit that I am a bit ignorant to everything that has been going on in South Africa so correct me if I am wrong, but wasn't Nelson Mandela falsely imprisoned for decades? ( Maybe that happened before the commissions)

Lastly.....I am a first timer to the forum so I have to ask, why do people not use their full names? Are you afraid that someone may know you, approach you on the street and punch you in the nose? How would that make you feel? I think we need to talk about that over a couple of cold ones!

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore
on Mar 9, 2013 at 4:28 pm

i am so escair of denise heart...she must be very brave and funny...tee hee hee...he must be what is called a tough cookie!

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore
on Mar 9, 2013 at 4:29 pm

Re: mandela

now we all know how stupid you are...

Posted by Dennis hart, a resident of Amador Estates
on Mar 9, 2013 at 4:31 pm

So correct me on Mandela like I requested

Posted by Yes on Youth Justice, a resident of Lydiksen Elementary School
on Mar 9, 2013 at 5:05 pm

Sitting around in tribes passing a talking stick?

Sounds a lot like Steve trying to convince us all that Dennis is his real name. The hatred and bigotry is just spilling out of his ears.

Correct you on Mandela? Like I said, Get Help.

Posted by Steve, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Mar 9, 2013 at 5:36 pm

Yes on youth justice aka Trevor, it's good to know there are self righteous fools in our midst, just waiting to throw themselves into the middle of a violent altercation just to save us. You really need to wake up and live in the real world, with humans who have a wide range of emotions, some not rational, like yours. If you think you can solve crime and heal the human heart from violence, you're so much better than all the geniuses who preceded you. Since that's not likely, we will just assume you're another limp wristed Berkeley liberal who thinks they know how to solve the world problems with flowers and chants. Good luck with that....peace, out.......

Posted by Trevor, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Mar 9, 2013 at 7:58 pm

After you put forward some ridiculous claims, I asked nicely some questions that might help you to defend them. Instead, all you have provided us with is lots of bile. Did something very serious happen to you in your youth that you haven't yet come to grips with? Perhaps if you had had an opportunity to confront your violator in a peaceful and controlled setting you might better have been able to deal with your emotions over all these years.

You might profit in reading about South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commissions. They were instituted after Nelson Mandela became president of South Africa after having spent most of his adult life in prison during S. Africa's aparthied period. Nothing limp-wristed at all about this great man, I can tell you. The commissions were meant to bring together an aggrieved and victimized people, on the one hand, and those who had been cruel perpetrators of violence, on the other. The commissions have met with some failures amidst some extraordinary successes as the nation has worked in good faith toward healing the deep wounds caused by decade upon decade of violence.

Posted by J.R., a resident of Foothill Knolls
on Mar 10, 2013 at 2:13 pm

There are 2 problems with the program. 1st is that it is misnamed. Nothing is being restored. The 2nd is that there is no Justice without punitive consequenses. Its like "not guilty due to lack of feeling the others pain". Most of the students will repeat the same of similar offenses.

Posted by Trevor, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Mar 10, 2013 at 4:11 pm

J.R., you don't know what you're talking about. Also, learn how to spell, otherwise we must punish you because punishment is all you'll understand.

Posted by J.R., a resident of Foothill Knolls
on Mar 10, 2013 at 4:22 pm

Trevor, go stand in the corner & sing to yourself. Ok, so I spelled a word incorrectly. the point is that this process does not modify the behavior. Neither did the 4 hour saturday school. At some point the kid & the parents need to take responsibility for their collective actions & behaviors. Wake up & smell the coffee.

Posted by Trevor, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Mar 10, 2013 at 7:03 pm

Fact is, you don't know much about anythng. Unlike other species, we don't behave; rather, we act as intentional beings. We're capable of reflection and a will to change our ways. Such has been exemplified with the S. African Truth and Reconciliation Commissions of which you appear to know nothing, no doubt because of your own ignorance and a fear that real knowledge might challenge the biases within which you find yourself so tightly wrapped.

Posted by J.R., a resident of Foothill Knolls
on Mar 10, 2013 at 7:16 pm

It is truly sad when your best reply is to denigrate & belittle the person whith whom you are attempting to have a civil discussion. Perhaps you should submit to the S. Africal Truth & Reconciliation Commission but they sound like process that was used in China under Mao. Best of luck to you.

Posted by Trevor, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Mar 10, 2013 at 8:09 pm

Please spell out for us more elaborately if you would how the Soouth African Truth and Reconciliation Commissions resemble the indoctrination ("re-education"?) processes used under Mao. We're waiting for a clear and helpful response. Your responses using the names Steve and Dennis Hart didn't go anywhere. Perhaps you can get a second breath with this, your third name. We, on the other hand, won't hold our breath.

Posted by J. R., a resident of Foothill Knolls
on Mar 10, 2013 at 9:27 pm

Did not use any other name. By the way, south only has 1 "o" not 2 so perhaps it is you that needs to learn how to spell! You clearly are unable to hold a civil conversation with someone who holds a different position so I will not respond to any future posting on this subject. Best regards. J.R.

Posted by Trevor, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Mar 10, 2013 at 9:48 pm

Translation: J.R. is bitter and hateful and has nothing to offer accept cheap-shot criticism of attempts to improve society. What a truly terrible loss to this discussion board, not only J.R. but the other names he's offered as well.

Posted by Chemist, a resident of Downtown
on Mar 11, 2013 at 9:01 am

We can't teach them enough math and science to get them a decent job (unless parents send them to Kumon, etc.), but we are going to spend our time and somebody's money on this nonsense. Don't we need to hire a Restorative Justice Administrator and pay them at least $200,000 per year?

Posted by Dude, a resident of Bridle Creek
on Mar 11, 2013 at 11:46 am

Typical Liberal thinking. They never actually fix the problem, they only address the symptom and its all about feelings. "Restorative Justice" is a tool used where a sense of community already exists. As quoted in the article "I think that in modern times we've lost the importance of what that feels like, to be living together in community. What does that mean? We've lost that." Reading these posts, we have a long way to go to rebuild a sense of community.