Clerking a School Meeting

On Thursdays I come into work a little earlier than usual. This means I get to catch more of the quiet part of the morning, where only a few kids are at school, playing games and waiting for the rest of their friends to show up. I use the extra time to organize the agenda for that day’s School Meeting.

I find the “green book,” the notebook where everyone writes down the motions they’re planning to make this week. Six of this week’s motions are Civics Board appeals — six cases in which someone feels that Civics Board didn’t do an adequate job with its judicial duties. For example, Streety is appealing a couple of cases in which he received sentences that he feels are too harsh on him. I personally think that these particular sentences are pretty fair, but still I’m glad Streety is appealing them, because the debate will be good for the school. In another case, Civics Board’s report indicates that both parties broke rules, but only one party was charged with breaking a rule. The appeal aims to reopen the case and send it back to Civics Board.

In the remaining cases, Civics Board has given some sentences which are fines with no due dates. Those sentences need to be edited by the School Meeting because they’re incomplete. We almost always make fines due within 5 days, so these were probably just clerical errors, but still, without a recorded due date it’s unclear when the fines are due. I decide to add a motion to the agenda which states that fines will automatically be due within 5 school days unless otherwise specified. This goes in the “First Readings” section, which means it will be read once this week, then a second time next week, before we can vote on it.

In order to figure out what our Second Readings are, I check the Minutes from last week. For the rest of the agenda, I go back to the green book. Motions made by individual people go in First Readings, while motions made by clerks and committees go in a special section called “CCCC Business” and only require a single reading, enabling them to pass more quickly.

One tricky decision for me is a motion that was made by Ben relating to an art project delegated to him by the PR Committee. I’m not sure whether this should go in First Readings or CCCC Business. If this motion passes, it will require everyone at school to contribute to a huge art piece for PR. I ask Super and Dab, who are playing Minecraft, if they like making art. Super says he doesn’t, although I’ve seen him make some pretty cool stuff before. Dab says he only likes carving wood. Most other kids say it’s fine. I decide to put the motion in First Readings, so this way if some people really don’t want to participate, they’ll have more opportunity for their voice to be heard.

At this point, a bunch of people arrive at once and DJ Snake starts playing chess with Aaron. A bunch of kids get the idea to start a chess tournament, and Cassi draws up a bracket. I want to join, so Cassi throws my name into the hat and I’m randomly selected to play against Crystal in the first round. I stop working on the agenda for the time being. Crystal is a tough opponent, and when I think I have her in checkmate, she figures out a way to block me that I hadn’t noticed. Eventually I win, but I’m pretty sure it’s just because she let me.

After my tournament round is done, I split my time between finishing the agenda and helping to referee other people’s tournament games. At one point, DJ Snake is playing a tournament game against Dab while Mimi and Crystal watch, and there’s a dispute about whether Dab is cheating, but the four kids present reach a consensus about how to make sure the game stays fair without my intervention.

While I’m with the kids playing chess, Aaron is working with another group making lemonade. The kids working on lemonade come around taking lemonade orders to find out how much they need to make. I ask them to make some for me, because I haven’t tried the Open School lemonade yet — I usually bring the lemons from my tree and then it gets made the next day.

While the chess tournament and lemonade continue, another group of kids decide to go outside into the grassy area. There are a bunch of games going on around the small playground, and one kid falls down. His friends who were playing with him all work together: the biggest kid carries him over to a grassy patch and the littlest kid runs over to me to get my attention right away. I send a student to get an ice pack and ask everyone else to give him some space. He and I sit together for a while with an ice pack on his knee, which is red. He tells me he’s okay and that he’s ready to get up and get back to what he was doing, but shortly after when his parent shows up the three of us talk some more about what happened. He ends up writing a complaint about the game that was happening right before he fell, and we make a plan for how to deal with problems like this in the future.

School Meeting starts late, but right away we approve the minutes from the previous week and move on to Civics Board business. One of Streety’s appeals comes up. In the official report, it says that Streety startled Super, causing Super to fall onto an item owned by third party and break it. The sentence was for Streety to replace the broken item, but Streety thinks that Super should replace it. School Meeting votes to send the case back to Civics Board to clarify the report. We send two of the other appeals back to Civics Board for clarification as well, then attach due dates to the fines.

Since there are no Second Readings to vote on this week, we move on to the First Readings. Aaron has requested that the school allocate $12 for a four square ball and pump. Everyone likes that idea. We second it and move on (we’ll vote on it next week). (Immediately after school meeting, the ball arrives via Amazon. Aaron had already bought it with his own money, but next week the school will get to vote on whether to buy it from him.) We also have a student motion made by DJ Cat to hold a movie day so we can watch “How To Train Your Dragon 2.”

Someone motions to make a rule against pressuring people into doing things they don’t want to do. The staff are the only ones interested in discussing this particular motion, and I’m reminded of being a kid and making fun of adults constantly talking about “peer pressure” as though adult pressure wasn’t a way more intense form of pressure in our lives. Later, Cassi and I talk about changing the wording in the motion from “peer pressure” to “social pressure” so that it’s age-neutral and is clear that students can write complaints against staff.

The “CCCC Business” section of the agenda is also short today. We decide to allocate a budget to the Art Corporation. I had requested $10 per month, but the School Meeting agrees that art is really important to the school and that $20 would be better. The meeting ends after only an hour, thanks mostly to our chair, who is 10, keeping the staff in order and making sure we don’t dominate the discussion.

After School Meeting ends, I split my time between walking around the school making sure things are going well for everyone and getting things ready for the upcoming camping trip to Joshua Tree National Park (we need waivers, gear lists, and to figure out the date of the event). But the most important thing I have to do in my role as the Law Clerk is update the law book right away, because Civics Board will be using the new rules tomorrow at 11AM.

In a recent conversation with another staff member, we talked about how weird it can be writing the laws for a Sudbury school. You have to completely step back from your own expectations of what people already know about how to behave in a group. It can be like writing instructions for doing basic life activities so that a robot from another planet will know how to do those things in a way that doesn’t bother anyone else. The instructions can’t be so specific that there are obvious loopholes, but need to be specific enough that the intentions of the rule are clear. I’m happy with how School Meeting panned out today, and as often happens, the students managed to change my mind about the things that really mattered to them. They’re taking these debate skills to the rest of their future lives, which will be to both the frustration and the delight of their future college departments and town halls. They’re also learning to self-advocate, a skill which is essential everywhere from job applications to doctor’s offices.

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