Academia Role-Play:

Williams v. Northville

Kate Harvey and David Kovick, under the supervision of Lawrence Susskind and Jennifer Brown

5-person, non-scorable mediation between a school principal and a parent (with attorneys) regarding a values-based dispute over classroom discussions and materials addressing same-sex couples and their families

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SCENARIO:

This is a five-person, non-scoreable negotiation simulation focused on mediating values-based legal disputes, specifically disputes involving potentially conflicting interests around issues of homosexuality and religious faith. Based on a real case, this simulation focuses on a dispute between a public school and parents over classroom discussions and materials depicting same-sex couples and their families. It also explores the role of attorneys representing their clients in negotiated agreements around values-based disputes.

In Williams vs. Northville, Jim and Jan Williams are the parents of two elementary school children in the Northville Public School System. A dispute arose between the Williamses and the school system about materials in the school's diversity curriculum that presented homosexual relationships and families headed by same-sex couples. J. Williams asked the school principal, S. Smith, for advance notification anytime homosexuality, same-sex marriage, or families headed by same-sex couples would be raised in class and that the Williams children be excused from class during these discussions. Principal Smith denied Williams' request, explaining that no parental notification was required to discuss homosexual families in class in this way.

The Williamses filed a lawsuit against the school district in state court asserting a parental right to have their sons excused from the parts of the curriculum that were contrary to their religious beliefs. The judge in the state trial court resolved the legal situation raised by the Williamses in favor of the school district, holding that parents do not have the right to restrict what a public school may teach their children. This simulation begins at the point where the Williamses have filed an appeal to the lower court's decision. Prior to oral argument in the case, the administrator of the appellate court mediation program has urged the parties to attempt to mediate the dispute.

 

MATERIALS INCLUDED:

  • Participant Materials include:
  • General Instructions for all Parties

 

Confidential Instructions for:

  • J. Williams, parent (negotiating on behalf of his/her spouse)
  • S. Smith, Northville Elementary School principal
  • L. Gibbs, attorney to J. Williams (MassResistance)
  • M. Gonzalez, attorney to S. Smith (City of Northville)
  • C. Nichols, court-appointed mediator

 

Teacher's Package includes:

  • All of the above
  • Jennifer Gerarda Brown, Peacemaking in the Culture War Between Gay Rights and Religious Liberty, 95 Iowa Law Review 747 (2010).
  • Teaching Notes

 

TEACHING POINTS:

The key teaching objective is to demonstrate that assisted negotiation (i.e., mediation) can be used to resolve values-based disputes, not just interest-based disputes. With the assistance of a mediator, the parties and their attorneys can craft a settlement that does not require them to compromise their fundamental values. Key teaching points include the importance in values-based disputes of avoiding threats to individual identity, stressing the human element, focusing on ongoing relationships, focusing on overarching values, and focusing on individual interests as well as values.


SIMILAR SIMULATIONS:

Williams v. Northville is one of a 3-part series of simulations focused on the mediation of values-based disputes. The other two simulations in the series are Ellis v. MacroB and Springfield OutFest.

If you wish to purchase all three simulations at a discount we have a bundle option available click here. You can also download a PDF version of "Teaching about the Mediation of Values-Based and Identity-Based Disputes".

Williams v. Northville Attributes

Time required: 2-3 hours
Number of participants: 5
Teams involved: Yes
Agent present: Lawyer
Neutral third party present: Mediator
Scoreable: No
Teaching notes available: Yes