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Round Lake school’s Peer Court lets students learn from mistakes

Round Lake Middle School Peer Court juror Analeidi Barrer14 Round Lake Beach asks questistudent defendant who pulled fire alarm school

Round Lake Middle School Peer Court juror Analeidi Barrera, 14, of Round Lake Beach asks a question of a student defendant who pulled a fire alarm at the school and faced expulsion. | Thomas Delany Jr.~ Sun-Times Media

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Updated: April 20, 2013 2:30AM

ROUND LAKE — Pulling the fire alarm and forcing the evacuation of Round Lake Middle School could result in getting kicked out of school.

But now, the school has a brand new alternative: Peer Court.

“The idea is restorative justice — to restore the wrong they’ve done to the school and community. It’s their (student offenders) responsibility to give back so they can feel they are part of something,” said Principal Jeffry Prickett.

Prickett and his administrative team worked with Teen Court Supervisor Nanci Radford to develop Peer Court. Radford said it is the only middle school in Lake County with Peer Court, which is based on Teen Court.

Teen Court is an alternative to the traditional court system for kids ages 11 to 17 who are arrested.

Peer Court is an alternative for Round Lake Middle School students who are facing suspension or expulsion. Peer Court hears offenses dealing with disrespect, tardiness, not doing homework, fights, vandalizing and defying authority. Peer Court would not handle a weapons-related case. That would go before the school board, Prickett said.

“I’m a firm believer that the earlier you contact with these kids, the better an opportunity you have to change their behavior. I think this is going to make a big difference in the culture of the school,” Radford said.

Peer Court is held the first Wednesday of every month. Eight to 10 eighth-grade students serve as peer jurors. Radford or another Teen Court judge sits on the panel and about 10 faculty members (plus one community member) make up the review board.

Jurors and the review board hear each case. Jurors question student defendants and then confer with the review board to determine a consequence.

They don’t use the word “punishment.” They use restorative justice, meaning jurors try to determine what happened, who was affected and how to make things right.

“We can help other students make better decisions,” said student juror Areceli Sanchez, 14, of Round Lake.

“It makes you feel good,” said fellow student juror Analeioi Barrera, 14, also of Round Lake.

They were among the jurors presiding over a recent case in which a male student pulled a fire alarm, forcing the entire school to evacuate.

Jurors asked him questions such as : What influenced him to pull the alarm? Would he ever do it again? Did he consider himself a leader or follower?

The defendant’s mother and grandmother were also present at Peer Court. Jurors asked his mom if he had been punished at home. His mother advised the jurors that her son lost cellphone and TV privileges, and that he was assigned extra chores.

Radford asked the defendant what he learned.

“I learned that it’s bad and I’ll never pull the fire alarm again. I’m sorry,” the defendant said.

He was ordered to write a speech on peer pressure, which he will present to elementary schools in the school district. He also had to apologize to Greater Round Lake Fire District firefighters and complete a class about making decisions. He was assigned a mentor from the review board and given a status hearing 30 days so Peer Court can review his speech.

“We’re giving them an opportunity to learn from their mistakes,” Prickett said. “We didn’t start this because we have a crazy amount of need ... we started this because we believe there is an alternative to suspensions and leadership for teens.”

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