After some violent attacks by teens, schools announce such hearings, which tend to show up on TV: “Administrators are announcing ‘Student-on-Student violence.’ A few kids were injured.”
But what do some of the students say?
To head off a backlash, schools often announce “Parent-Teen Violence” hearings where the parents of students who commit violent acts speak up. Until recently, such hearings were almost always called on by school administrators on a bad day, said Rick Sitkoff, executive director of the National Association of School Psychologists.
To the audience gathered in a giant ballroom this week at the East Lansing College of Law, it was a tense prospect to hear comments by the teens who would find out that they would probably be charged.
Parents are typically not allowed to question their children, and it isn’t the responsibility of the public to hear their statements. But parents clearly were nervous about what they were hearing.
“Imagine standing before an unfair audience,” said Jessica Polk-Brown, who represented the Garmlin family of eighth-grader Emily Garmlin, who said she was taught to shoot at girls before gunning down a student in Michigan in January.
Garmlin, 13, had posted on social media on Jan. 8 that she hoped someone would start a “confrontation” and “have a fight.”
Another girl involved in the attack, Ranya Musfahani, had sat in the chair across from the Garmlin family and sobbed quietly as the young girl’s mom, Tatiana Petitt Garmlin, described her daughter’s actions. Her mother said Emily “had a perfect record.”
She said her daughter was someone who loved “every last one of them.”
“Emily did not initiate this at all,” Tatiana Garmlin said. “She was not the one that asked for them to come out. She did not have a map. She did not have a pistol.”
But the Garmlin family’s attorney reminded the group that the law requires parents to “take an active role” in getting their children counseling, even before they start high school.
Some of the teenagers say they weren’t aware of anti-bullying policies in school.
“I was surprised by how silent everyone was,” freshman Jordan Youel said. “I didn’t expect so many parents to not be with their kids or talk to their kids.”
When the school said “they’d caught this kid using social media to preplan,” Youel had wondered, “Who knows when we see these kids post this stuff?” He wondered what consequences students faced if they posted offensive and violent material online.
“I don’t really want to admit to getting caught,” he said. “It’s not something that anybody likes to admit to. I don’t want to share the shame.”
The district, for example, imposed a suspension for 14-year-old student Jamil Montague, who, in a story that unfolded over several days, stabbed another student in the stomach with a pocket knife at Battle Creek Community High School in January.
“This is heartbreaking and has affected the lives of many people,” said Dean Belter, who heads the student government at Battle Creek Community High School, where Jamil Montague is a sophomore.
Jamil was charged as a juvenile with assault. He was first taken to a local hospital for assessment. If he doesn’t pose a threat to other students, he can be released from custody by Friday morning.
Maybe the hearings in the past aren’t meant to judge people, Sitkoff said. “Maybe it’s a forum for teenagers to say they understand that, even for them,” he said.
But it’s also true that as school shootings increase in number and seriousness, these hearings only seem to gain more importance.
“The problem here is that it’s really not intended as a forum for learning,” Sitkoff said. “It’s to litigate the situation.”
In the wake of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting, Sitkoff said schools now have the legal authority to evaluate student-on-student attacks and dismiss some students. But they have not used that authority in this fashion.
In some jurisdictions, suspending a student can lead to formal disciplinary charges against a parent that the student must appear in court to defend.
It can be a difficult process. The charge would not appear on a student