"I do solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."
Most people would expect to hear an oath of this nature in a courtroom instead of in a classroom. However, Hendersonville High’s student-run Commando Court functions in much the same way as an adult court.
The court meets during skinny block and is staffed by criminal justice teacher Regan Cothron’s fourth block class.
Student "defendants" are summoned to the court upon referral by a teacher, mostly for minor violations that would warrant a detention, things like missing ID tags, tardiness, or profanity.
The criminal justice students serve as prosecuting attorney, defense attorney, and jury, while Cothron presides as judge.
“The prosecuting attorney goes to the teacher to find out what happened and what they want to see happen,” Cothron explained. “The defense attorney talks to the student and gets their side of the story.”
After the two sides present their cases, including testimony from the defendant, the jury decides on the punishment.
Cothron said the jury is often “tougher than the administration would be.” Past penalties include a three-page paper and PowerPoint presentation on why it is inappropriate to be late to class.
Olivia Zecco, a senior, appeared before Commando Court last year for not wearing her ID. The court ordered her to write an apology letter to English teacher Taylor Coleman and to promise to wear her ID the rest of the year.
Zecco thought the court’s punishment was fair, and effective. She said last week – her ID in plain view - that she hasn’t been back to the court since.
Coleman estimates that she has sent about 15 students to Commando Court in the past year. She likes that the court tends to give “more appropriate” punishments than a simple detention. For example, she recalled that one student who was constantly late to class had to write the bell schedule multiple times.
Students who don’t follow through with the punishment return to the court and face stiffer penalties; if they still don’t comply, the matter is turned over to school administrators.
As for the criminal justice students who staff the court, the experience gives them a deeper understanding of the legal system. Clayton Stickle, a senior, said he found it particularly challenging to come up with reasonable punishments that fit the “crime.”
Cothron said students gain more control of the class as they become comfortable with the court’s operation. Her favorite part about Commando Court, she said, is getting “to step back and let the students do the work.”
Story by Kyra Hodge