Zhang came to mediation because he had been arrested for using a BB gun to shoot out the windows of his old elementary school. Zhang and his mother, Li, met with Patricia and Bernice, the principal and dean of students of the school. Patricia and Bernice had helped Zhang through some behavioral issues when he was a student at the elementary school, and so were familiar with Zhang and his family.
When the mediator convened the session, he first met with both sides privately to ensure everyone understood his role and to hear their concerns. During this initial phase, Zhang and Li expressed that their main desire was to apologize for the incident, take responsibility for it and resolve the issue so it could be put behind them.
Patricia and Bernice were both deeply hurt and angry. This incident caused physical damage to the school; it was fear-inducing incident for students and also for administrators in the age of mass school shootings; and it also felt like a personal betrayal because of all the energy they had invested in Zhang already. The fact that Li had not offered any acknowledgement of the incident for months was even more galling.
When the mediator brought the parties together, he started by giving Zhang a chance to speak and explain what happened from his perspective – the incident was unrelated to his old elementary school, but due to personal frustration about the fact that his mother and father had separated a few years ago and he felt things had been deteriorating in their home life ever since. An uncle had given him a BB gun and he had been using it to shoot out his frustrations on bottles and cans in a back alley near the school. On his way home, he just kept shooting things and happened to be going by the school. Some other kids were around and it developed into some sort of dare and a way to impress the group.
Once Patricia and Bernice heard this, they were relieved to understand that it wasn’t something more sinister or dangerous to the future of the school and its students. However, they still felt betrayed, disrespected, and disappointed that Zhang would do something like this after all they had done for him and his family. Furthermore, they expressed frustration and confusion about why Li never approached them to address the issue or try to make it right. As the mediator helped summarize and clarify the detailed reasons behind their emotions, it became clear that they were primarily looking for respect and acknowledgement that they had been damaged both physically and emotionally by this incident.
Li was able to address this by describing how she had been angry at Zhang for having the BB gun in the first place and embarrassed that she hadn’t been more aware of his behavior. Because of her shame around the issue, she had avoided the two administrators as much as possible. Additionally, she was told by the police that she should hire an attorney and not talk about the case until she had done so. Since she couldn’t afford that, she felt her only option was to wait until the courts decided the punishment and try her best to swallow the consequences.
By being given the opportunity to tell their story and have it heard by the school representatives, Zhang and Li were able to express remorse about their actions while providing context for them. This allowed Patricia and Bernice to mitigate their fear and anger around the lack of communication and to begin to focus on restoration rather than punishment.
After guiding the conversation to this point, the mediator then helped the parties craft an agreement that outlined a specific schedule of service work that Zhang would do at the school on a weekly basis until the cost of the damage had been worked out. They also agreed that Bernice would communicate with Zhang about his grade reports and if he received good grades, it would reduce his number of service hours by a certain amount. When the mediation was over, they all hugged and promised to stay in communication should anything change or need to be adjusted.