Defending their honor

By Eli Haims

“When an Honor Code infraction has happened, the community is broken to a certain degree,” Chaplain Father J. Young said. “If it’s a big one like that history cheating scandal, it’s obvious that the community is broken. But even in a little one, if a teacher can no longer trust a student and that teacher maybe looks at his or her other students through a funny lens, the community of trust has been broken. The goal of the Honor Board is to restore the community back to its wholeness.”

Young initially reviews the situation, evaluating whether the case will pass the Honor Review Committee, a group of Prefects who determine whether the full Board will hear the case.

Head Prefect Brooke Levin ’12 said that HRCs tend to take place during Prefect Council meetings and therefore include all of the Prefects. If Young feels that a case will not make it through the HRC, the teacher and the administration will jointly determine the consequences students will face.

However, if he feels that the case will pass the HRC, he gathers evidence, which includes any physical proof, such as matching Scantrons in the case of cheating. Statements from both the student and teacher involved are also collected.

Levin emphasized that the Honor Board itself is not an investigative body, saying that “there’s only so much that you can prove and we don’t try to prove things that are not there.”

In the 2008-2009 school year, a new policy was enacted to deal with first Honor Board offences. The policy requires teachers to report infractions to a student’s dean, but if it is a minor offense, teachers are allowed to deal with the consequences themselves.

In an interview with the Chronicle in February 2009, Head of School Harry Salamandra outlined the reason behind this change.

“Some of the faculty felt that it would be beneficial to be able to have that relationship with the student, especially if it was a first time offense or it was an offense of a more minor nature,” he said.

Young then presents the details of the case to the HRC. When the HRC is determining whether the case will be heard by the full Board, they answer four questions, according to Head Prefect Rishi Bagrodia ’12: “Is there a clear violator?”, “Is there a clear violation?”, “Is there evidence?” and “Does the Prefect Council want to take the case?”

“There just has to be evidence of the infraction,” he said. “Otherwise, the case is based on abstraction.”

Bagrodia said that the HRC’s decision on whether to take the case is based on their understanding of the Honor Code and if a particular infraction violates the Honor Code. If the HRC decides not to take the case because there is either no clear violation, violator or evidence, the infraction is dealt with by the teacher.

If the HRC decides that the case will move to the full Honor Board, the next step is to determine who will hear the case.

The Head Prefects, two Prefects from each grade, Young, two teachers and a dean sit on the board. The grade-level Prefects switch off case-by-case and there are two pairs of teachers who rotate. The teachers for this year have not yet been selected because there has not been a full Honor Board case.

Up to this point, the identities of the student and the teacher are not known by the Prefect Council. Once the names are announced, a Head Prefect asks if there are any recusals, where someone sitting on the case is friendly enough with the student who committed the infraction that the person hearing the case does not feel that he or she could make a fair and objective judgment.

Before the case, both the student and the teacher write statements describing the infraction. The first thing that the Honor Board does the day of the hearing is to read the statements, looking to see if anything must be clarified, Bagrodia said. The teacher is then called before the Board and gives a report of what transpired.

The teacher is then excused, and the student and his or her dean are called before the Board.

Bagrodia believes that the student’s perspective is crucial to understanding exactly what happened. At this point, many students admit to the infraction, and the Board works to help them understand and make up for their mistake.

“For something like plagiarism, you will be kicked out [of college],” he said. “You don’t get an Honor Board.”

In 2009, the Chronicle printed a first-person account of a student going before the Board. He described the member of the Board “grilling” him for 10 minutes and how the Board’s recommendation commented on his agreeableness.

“I read the statement, which said that I seemed embarrassed and that I understood the impact of my actions on a small scale, but that I was too compliant, that I went along with everything they said,” he wrote. “Was I supposed to argue with them, to stand up for myself? I simply agreed with their assessment of the infraction. Why was that a problem?”

After the student is finished with his or her description of the incident, he or she is excused and the student’s dean is asked whether the student has previously committed an Honor Board infraction.

“If there [has been], this obviously makes our lives slightly more difficult,” he said. “With a prior offense, there are magnified consequences because of the pattern that is continuing without showing any break.”

Once the student, the teacher and the student’s dean have all spoken, the Board begins the process of determining what they will recommend in terms of punishment. The framework for the punishments, beginning with least severe, is revocation of grade-level privileges, detention, in-house detention, in-house suspension, suspension and expulsion. However, Bagrodia said that the Board rarely bases its recommendations solely on this framework, as the Board exists to help the student, and merely punishing him or her does not accomplish this.

“We look at each case and figure out what is best for that specific student,” Levin said. “The point behind a detention or suspension is never just to punish a student. With an in-house detention, it is honestly to give the student an opportunity to sit down for one full day at school and get all of their work done, because we noticed that this kid was behind on his work.”

Only punishments equal to and higher than a suspension are reported by the school to colleges, Young said.

After discussing the potential recommendation, a vote is taken. If the vote is close, the Board discusses the recommendation further.

When the recommendation is determined, a prefect drafts a letter to Head of Upper School Harry Salamandra. He can either approve the recommendation, alter it or completely reject it, but Bagrodia said that “nine times out of ten” he approves it.

After Salamandra’s final decision, Levin said that the student is called into his or her dean’s office and told what the Board’s recommendation and Salamandra’s decision are.

The recommendation is then sent back to the Prefect Council, where it is anonymized and sent to the student body and to faculty. In these recommendations, the Prefect Council gives a synopsis of the incident and described how the student behaved before the Board, what the violation of the Honor Code was and what the Honor Board recommended as punishments.

A few weeks after the case is heard, one or two Prefects and a Head Prefect meet with the student to check up on how he or she is doing.

“In all of the follow up meetings I’ve been in, people have found the process very helpful,” Levin said.

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