School bypasses Honor Board in math case

By Jordan Freisleben

 

Students who confessed to knowingly cheating by studying from previous years’ tests in last year’s Introduction to Calculus Honors classes cannot receive college recommendations from their calculus teachers and must complete four hours of community service.

The administration bypassed the Honor Board and directly asked members of the class to confess after two informants told them that some students had possession of old tests similar to the ones used last year.

All Introduction to Calculus Honors students were handed a note upon leaving their final exam in June to meet in Ahmanson Lecture Hall. The students were confronted by Head of Upper School Harry Salamandra, Chaplain Father Young and math teachers Kevin Weis and Jeff Snapp.

At the meeting, students signed their names in one of three boxes to indicate whether they were involved in the cheating, uninvolved but aware of the cheating or completely unaware of the cheating.

“The Honor Board had no way of knowing which kids, if any, were related to this so that’s why it didn’t become an Honor Board case,” Head Prefect Melanie Borinstein ’11 said.

“Typically, this kind of thing would be an Honor Board case if we knew ‘this person did this’ or something,” Salamandra said. “In this situation, we didn’t have names.”

Head Prefect Chris Holthouse ’11 said that, had the incident been treated as an Honor Board case, the consequences would have been significantly different.

“It’s precedent for these things. You know cheating on a test is considered a major Honor Code infraction, and you know, in comparison, what they got was relatively light, so I think it would have been different,” Holthouse said.

“I don’t what the outcome would’ve been, but the Board has always been very thoughtful and it’s nice to have student input into the situation. When you don’t have the Honor Board, you don’t get that,” Salamandra said.

A student in Introduction to Calculus Honors who wished to remain anonymous said that the punishment given to students was not just.

“The fact that they cheated is disrespectful,” the student said. “It’s not harsh enough. It’s a major Honor Code violation.”

Another student in the class who wished to remain anonymous said that the cheating incident should not be considered a major infraction.

“I don’t think that’s a horrible thing,” the student said. “It’s their own fault if they don’t change the tests from year to year. They gave them back to the students, so it was like free information. It was never specifically told to them that they couldn’t use them.”

Students should have come forward once they noticed similarities between the tests, Borinstein said.

“I think that there’s a difference between looking at your sibling’s test and the point where it becomes something wrong is when you get the class that day, you take the test, you see the question and say ‘It’s identical to the one I had at home,’” she said.

“The thing you’re supposed to do is tell your teacher ‘I looked at the test from last year, I thought this was fair game, I thought you changed the test, but this is identical.’ But because they continued to use the test and see that it was the same thing, that’s when it became a problem,” Borinstein said.

Salamandra said that if there’s free information available to all students, they should be allowed to use it.

“Me, personally, I feel if that there’s information out there and students have it and it’s available to everybody, it’s fair. I wouldn’t want a situation, personally, if only a few of the kids had it and others didn’t,” he said.

“But if there’s information that’s available and it’s open to everybody, yeah, that is fair game in that respect, I would think,” Salamandra said.

Clearing the conscience of the students was a priority for Young and Salamandra as opposed to giving a harsher punishment, Holthouse said.

“What they felt was more of a realistic option and something that would benefit the students more would be to come clean, get the weight off their shoulders, they thought that they’d have a better time achieving that, without the strictest of punishments,” Holthouse said.

Salamandra said that the fact that students came clean of their violation should be given consideration.

“You’ve got to give people some credit for coming forward and admitting that they do something, too,” he said.

“If you do something and we don’t know that you did it, or we just hear from someone that you did it, and you walked in this door and said ‘I gotta tell you something, let’s close the door’ and you admit to me that you did, I have to give you credit for that,” Salamandra said. “I think it’s important, because if I say ‘thank you very much’ and I give you the same punishment you would have gotten if you wouldn’t have walked in the door and I tracked you down, I’m concerned that we would be sending a message to you that it’s probably better just to shut your mouth next time.”

While the tests were handed back by the Introduction to Calculus Honors teachers in previous years, Young said the math department is not at fault for returning the tests without changing them from year to year.

“That’s the version of the old argument if you leave your keys in the ignition and the car is stolen, it’s your fault,” he said. “I have more of a Pollyanna kind of view when it comes to our community. I would love to work and live in a community where we are able to do things like that and still have the trust of students to not violate that. I think the mere fact that they handed the tests back puts them in the position that ‘it’s their own fault’ kind of thing – I don’t agree with that.”