Restorative Justice for cyberbullying – A personal reflection from a NC4RJ course participant
By Sara Mounsey
Our third restorative conference this year was precipitated by a cyberbullying event. It came to our attention when an administrator from a neighboring district reported that one of his students had revealed a disturbing interaction she’d had online with one of our students.
After further investigation, we were able to confirm that the student accused of cyberbullying was, in fact, our student. He took accountability for the action as soon as he was asked. In organizing the conference we were saddened that the victim of the bullying refused to have any part in making amends. She and her family were not willing to come together nor were they willing to make any statement. We were advised by the administrators involved that the issue was severe enough to have warranted charges being filed with law enforcement. Luckily, the family did not wish to press charges.
In the hopes of helping the student understand the potential impact of his actions from a law enforcement perspective, we invited our local chief of police. We were able to bring him into the circle as both a law enforcement specialist and also as a trusted adult with a prior relationship of supporting our student. We also had another trusted adult along with a facilitator. The student is an unaccompanied youth, so we did not have family representation.
The circle was incredibly powerful. Silent at first, the student struggled to make eye contact. After hearing impact statements, though, he became emotional and explained that he needed help. The circle was filled with love for the student, as well as a sense of seriousness regarding the harm. He had an opportunity to hear statements of support as well as the truth of where the incident could have led given different circumstances. In the course of the circle, he both took accountability and opened up to the concept of an action of apology.
Since the family of the victim wished no further contact, it was suggested that the student consider how to positively impact others by learning about the impact of cyberbullying and sharing what he knew. He was both open to this idea as well as open to accessing emotional support through counseling. A plan for an action of apology unfolded.
Over the course of the past few months, this student has been working alongside an adult mentor to research and design a presentation about cyberbullying. This topic, identified by the district technology coordinator as an area of need for younger students, has been thoroughly explored by the team. Together, they will present their work to a group of fifth and sixth grade students at an elementary school. The student shared his work with pride at his Exhibition of Learning recently.
The student remains in counseling as well. This restorative work is holistic and healing, both for our student and for our community. We’re grateful to have received the training to facilitate the conference and for the positive impact of this learning experience.