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Canyons School District begins peer court to help keep kids out of the criminal justice system

Posted at 9:25 PM, Sep 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-03 09:11:14-04

SANDY, Utah — More than twenty students and mentors gathered in the board room at the Canyons School District Wednesday night for a mock trail. The district is launching a peer court this year for the first time.

“It gives kids the opportunities to number one learn the civic system, but number two if they have committed an offense in school, a lower level offense, that they don’t end up in the criminal justice system,” BJ Weller, Canyons School District Dir. of Responsive Services, said.

Students who are accused of a lower level offense have the choice to attend peer court, after admitting their guilt. The lower level offenses must have been done on school property and include examples such as fighting, vandalism or possession of alcohol, Weller said.

“Typically, when a student committed an offense, we would suspend them or if it was a safe school violation, we would look at expulsion and now through restorative practices we are looking at the harm being caused,” he said.

Peer court helps promote kids graduating and encourages them to stay out of the criminal justice system. It is also an opportunity for students, like Abigail Simmons who is a peer court member, to practice for their future to help make a difference.

“I really think our criminal justice system could use some reform,” she said.

Simmons said she wants to go into civil rights law and eventually politics. It’s an exciting opportunity to make a difference, she said.

“I am a little nervous but mostly I’m excited to just to participate and make a difference in the community,” Simmons said.

There are peer courts in some Utah cities but this is only the second school district in the state to have a peer court.