The School Mediator
Peer Mediation Insights From the Desk of Richard Cohen Vol. V, 5/06

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Re-Entry Mediation

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The School Mediator's Field Guide:
Prejudice, Sexual Harassment, Large Groups and Other Daily Challenges
by Richard Cohen
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Students Resolving Conflict:
Peer Mediation in Schools

by Richard Cohen
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Welcome to the May issue of The School Mediator.

This month we explore re-entry mediation, in particular two unique aspects of coordinating these cases.

This is the last issue for 2005-2006, our fifth year of publication. Thank you for your continued support, and especially for sharing your insights and experiences.

I look forward to being in touch again in September.

Wishing you the best, wherever you are,

Richard Cohen
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates

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  • Re-Entry Mediation

  • An important application of peer mediation, one that I call "re-entry mediation," involves mediating between students who are returning to school after being suspended for fighting.

    My informal poll of programs indicates that anywhere from 15% to as many as 35% of the cases in successful peer mediation programs are re-entry mediations. These sessions provide a helpful service to students who otherwise might return to school without an opportunity to resolve the conflict that led to their suspension.

    After parties commit to the process, mediating these cases is similiar to mediating any other conflict at school.

    Two elements of coordinating re-entry mediations are unique, however, and merit our attention:

    1. Attending a re-entry mediation session is often mandatory for parties.

    At first blush this seems inconsistent with one of the central tenets of mediation: voluntariness. Voluntary participation is more than an abstract principle for mediators; it is an eminently practical requirement for a process which works only if participants choose in good faith to use it.

    But we must make an important distinction, one that coincidentally was made by the Harvard Law School Professor Frank Sanders at a recent conference honoring his seminal contribution to the field of alternative dispute resolution. In response to a question about mandatory mediation, Dr. Sanders stressed the difference between being required to attend a mediation session (or a mediation intake interview) and being required to participate in the mediation process after you arrive.

    Students should never be forced to participate in mediation: the cost to the process, to the mediation program's reputation, and to the strength and longevity of any agreements created would not be worth the price.*

    Many students who might benefit from mediation, however, refuse to participate out of ignorance, fear, or a desire to save face. Requiring that they at least attend a mediation session exposes students to the process and to the "charms" and genuine concern of skilled coordinators and mediators.

    Once introduced to mediation, it is hard to resist. In the large majority of cases, students who have been forced to attend a peer mediation session voluntarily choose to participate in the process. These students experience the benefits of participation--a high rate of agreement, the sense of being understood, exposure to new attitudes and skills, etc.--at the same rate as students who attend their session voluntarily. Parties' confidential evaluations confirm this.

    Of course, some students do refuse to participate. Even when this occurs, however, coordinators report that they benefit from the chance to make a personal connection with students and to learn about situations they may need to watch. Also, students unwilling to mediate at first sometimes ask for assistance a few days or weeks later.

    Managing this subtle issue requires skill and sensitivity; it is essential that coordinators and mediators prevent parties from feeling like they are forced to participate in mediation. But in the end, it seems that if you lead the horse to water, most of the time they will drink.

    2. Parents have much more contact with the mediation program in re-entry mediation.

    Typically, parents only learn that their child has participated in mediation if the child informs them.

    Consider, however, that when a student is suspended from school, usually parents or guardians have met with administrators, talked extensively with their child about the conflict, and even changed their work schedule to accommodate having a child at home during the school day.

    These parents not only know about the mediation, they often put pressure on their children to participate in the process!

    And so for re-entry mediations, coordinators often have the relatively unique opportunity to speak directly with students' parents. Such interactions might involve explaining why the school can't force a child to mediate, or why coordinators can't inform parents about what happened during a session.

    This higher degree of parent involvement is not lost on the parties. It is not unusual for coordinators and mediators to help parties think through how they are going to share their mediation experience with their parents, or more broadly, how the lessons learned from their mediation experience can inform the way they approach future conflicts at home.

    As one peer mediation coordinator put it: "I always feel that the mediation experience is a big step toward maturity that helps students build healthier relationships within their families. Often students begin to see, sometimes for the first time, that they have the power to create and maintain healthy relationships."

    Re-entry mediation is a certainly a valuable application of the peer mediation process. Strive to make attending a mediation session or intake interview a part of your school's re-entry process.

    What has been your experience with "re-entry" mediation? Please share your thoughts...

    Thanks to Maija Gray, Randi Orpen, and Yvette Thomas for their assistance in preparing this issue.

    *In efforts to save money and reduce case backlogs, court systems and government agencies around the world have increasingly been "forcing" parties to try mediation. Follow the link below to read an interesting article on this subject.

    Mandatory Mediation: Implications and Challenges, by Jeff D. Rifleman

  • About Us
  • For twenty-two years, School Mediation Associates has been devoted to the application and promotion of mediation in schools. SMA's mission is to transform schools into safer, more caring, and more effective institutions. Our books and training programs have been utilized by tens of thousands of people around the world.

    Call us: 617-926-0994
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    Watertown, MA 02472 USA

    Copyright © 2006 School Mediation Associates. You may reproduce this article by including this copyright and, if reproducing it electronically, including a link to

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