Maple Grove High School alleged vandal's attorney: 'School district scapegoated him'

- On Nov. 9 at Maple Grove Senior High School, a vandal wrote racist messages in one of the bathroom doors. Last week, Maple Grove superintendent, Kate Maguire, released a statement to the community stating that the person had been identified.

The attorney representing the student claims the school has targeted the wrong student and doesn't plan on backing down. Maple Grove Senior High is also refusing to provide the student’s Attorney, Andrea Jepsen with the surveillance footage from outside the bathroom and the reasons why they believe the student is the culprit.

READ MORE: Vandal behind racist message at Maple Grove Senior High identified

Here’s the full letter from the student’s attorney:

Fox 9, on 11/21 you reported on an open letter issued by the superintendent of the Osseo Area School District regarding a student accused of creating racist graffiti at the Maple Grove Senior High School.

The School Law Center represents the young man to whom she is referring in her letter, and what follows is our response. Please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have.

On November 21, 2016, the Osseo Area School District issued an open letter from Superintendent Kate Maguire stating that the District had identified and punished the individual who defaced a bathroom stall in the Maple Grove Senior High School with racist messages on November 9, 2016.  That statement is false.

Instead, the District chose a sensitive and vulnerable young person who was among the students who entered the restroom on November 9, and scapegoated him.  In doing so, the District violated his rights under the law, and inflicted terrible emotional damage on him, while missing the opportunity to find the real culprit.  We believe that the District did so because it was very difficult to isolate the actual wrongdoer with any certainty, and bringing this matter to what the District believed would be a quick end was its highest priority.

It is so much easier for schools to sweep these matters quickly under the rug than to do the real work necessary to improve school climate and create a learning environment that is just for all.  The District was coy about the punishment it intends to inflict on this young man in its open letter, but we will not be: The District is attempting to expel him from school on the flimsiest of bases.  But even if the District ultimately identifies the real culprit, expulsion from school is almost never the right intervention.

With expulsion, there is no teaching, no development of empathy, no opportunity to express and receive remorse, no obligation to perform restitution, no opportunity for victims to express their hurt to a perpetrator, no true resolution and restoration.  There is only banishment.  Further, schools disproportionately expel students of color and students with disabilities, and expulsion from school puts students at greater risk of dropping out of school, repeating a grade, and becoming involved in the juvenile and criminal justice system.  Expulsion, it is said, is the first stop through the school-to-prison pipeline.

The most meaningful way for a school to respond to acts that harm the school community is to engage in a restorative justice practice, a process based on victim-offender mediation and indigenous teachings that can address our deepest social challenges.  Restorative justice calls on us to consider how we got to where we are, and in this case, how it came to be that someone at the Maple Grove Senior High believed it was acceptable to spread a message of hate to the school community.

Since the 1970s, victim-offender mediation has been used for the most serious crimes, and has brought real transformation. The restorative justice process can move both perpetrators and offenders of the most serious crimes to a more constructive, hopeful place, even when that seems impossible to do.  Experienced facilitators believe that no matter the harm done, restorative justice can transform lives and bring healing.

However, when the student the District is identifying as the wrongdoer here asked the District to engage in a restorative justice process with him, even if he was not the actual perpetrator, the District not only refused to do so, it refused to even discuss the idea with a trained practitioner, citing the District's notoriety in the media.  It is the wrong reason to refuse an intervention that can bring about so much mutual good.

We hope that the communities contained within the Osseo Area School District will stand with us, instead of against us, in insisting that the District use the proven method of restorative justice to create a more just school environment, instead of sacrificing a single student, particularly where there remains so many questions regarding the identity of the actual perpetrator.  The whole community will be better for doing so.

Andrea L. Jepsen

Attorney at Law

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