How and Why Laws are Created - or Not - at HVSS
Recently, a staff member made a motion to put a defunct law called “Chase and Pursuit,” which forbids indoors chase games, back onto the books. It passed to Second Reading, which means that it can be made into official school law at the following meeting. But this law proved to be controversial, and the debate that followed revealed how in a democratic community even a seemingly simple proposition involves a complex web of implications. In a small direct democracy, different perspectives inform and balance each other; it’s harder to get things done than in autocratic systems, but what’s done generally has more consideration behind it.
The Chase and Pursuit law was rescinded last year because there are other indoor laws which cover the parts of chase games that are disruptive: there is a noise ordinance, a law against moving fast, and another against being rowdy. The staff member who sponsored the motion to reinstate the law argued that there are activities happening on a regular basis which do not violate any of those laws but which should not be allowed. I thought of times I’ve been working in the office and students sneak in and try to hide underneath my desk, or giant games of hide-and-seek spanning the building, and although they aren’t necessarily loud, fast, or rowdy, they are disruptive to people trying to focus on their own activities.
Two older students attended the meeting to debate the law. They argued that this law would complicate an already crowded law book; if there was a game of tag in the building, for example, would the players be charged with rowdy play, moving fast, being disruptively noisy, and chase and pursuit, making four charges for one event? Wouldn’t that be a messy overcharge? They asked where the line would be drawn between a chase game and simply “looking for someone,” or following someone who is leading you to a destination. They suggested that the law would allow for people to be charged for harmless activities. The rule’s sponsor responded that nobody would bother to write up harmless activities, but the students weren’t satisfied by that, arguing that such activity should not be technically illegal, even if it would be allowed.
A second staff member spoke on behalf of reinstating the law, saying that it can be difficult to have a quiet focused group activity when chase games - even quiet ones - are going on. Sometimes people playing hide-and-seek want to look in a room where a group is working, for example.
Another Staff Member chimed in, saying that she likes “a little chaos” in the building - it’s fun. She argued that groups who are engaged in quiet focused activities are disturbed more often by random people barging into the room and for no other reason than to see what’s happening, and suggested that we turn our attention to addressing that issue.
When it came time to vote I abstained. I wasn’t sure what my opinion was, and I left it to the people who were feeling passionate. I was more interested by how any discussion of laws and procedures at Sudbury connects to the wider culture of the school and brings up essential questions: what kind of culture do we want to create at the school? How much regulation is too much or too little? How can we prevent one individual’s freedom from disturbing another’s? The motion to reinstate the Chase and Pursuit Law failed; the School Meeting decided to err on the side of legal simplicity, individual freedom, and fun. The bill’s sponsor smiled concession, and we proceeded to the next order of business.