Honor Board strives to make process ‘less intimidating’

 

By Sammy Roth and Daniel Rothberg

In an effort to temper fears of going before the Honor Board, the board has developed an explanatory pamphlet for accused students and is holding follow-up meetings with students a few weeks after they appear before the board, Father J. Young said.

These initiatives are the latest in a series of changes that have been made to the Honor Board during the last three years.

Last year, the administration implemented a policy which allows teachers to deal with “minor” first Honor Code infractions on their own. And two years ago, prefects prepared recommendations meant to change the handling of the Honor Code, including one proposal that would have limited the use of Turnitin.com. However, this proposal and others essentially died with the cheating scandal, when 20 students were involved with the theft of two midterms.

 

“Less intimidating”

This year’s changes were implemented to make going before the Honor Board a “more personal experience,” Junior Prefect Chris Holthouse said.

The explanatory pamphlet is given to students a few days before they go before the board. It explains the purpose of the board and details what will happen when they appear before the board.

“The pamphlet is designed to lessen the anxiety of coming before the board,” Young said.

During the follow-up meetings, which Head Prefect Reid Lidow ’10 described as being “totally informal,” several prefects talk with the student, making sure he or she is following up on their recommendations and reinforcing their rationale for those recommendations.

Additionally, just before a student comes before the Honor Board, one prefect steps outside of the room and gives the student a brief run through of what the process will be like, a “very quick version” of the pamphlet, Lidow said.

Young added that the prefects have made an effort to be less intimidating while questioning students.

“Our demeanor…in the Honor Board meetings themselves has become a bit more friendly,” Young said.

“Coming before the board shouldn’t be a scary thing. It really shouldn’t,” Lidow said. “If we’re there as the students’ voice and we’re there to really help the kid, then we are totally missing the point if the kid comes in scared to death.”

Miranda* ’11, who came before the Honor Board last year, called her experience “really intimidating.”

“I was really scared, and I was crying, and it was just a really bad experience,” Miranda said.

Miranda made a second appearance before the board this year. Her experience was improved this time.

“It was definitely changed this year, with the fact that they have someone come out [to greet you], and they go slower, and they don’t have the teachers coming at you with the questions, they mostly have the students asking them,” Miranda said.

But she added that even with the changes, going before the Honor Board is “never going to be a good experience.”

 

Advantages and disadvantages

Holthouse, who was recently elected as one of next year’s Head Prefects, said that the process of going before the Honor Board is beneficial for students who violate the Honor Code.

“We get to spend sometimes 45 minutes having an actual conversation with the student and figuring out not just what they did, but what led to the decision, what could have been done to prevent it and what can be done in the future to prevent something like that happening again,” Holthouse said. “So it feels like more of a full disciplinary process where we’re really trying to make a connection with the student and do what’s best for him or her, and the student body at large.”

Lidow agreed with Holthouse that the Honor Board is a good experience for students.

“If I were to commit an infraction, I wouldn’t want a panel of teachers or a panel of administrators before me because they have no clue what I’m going through and their opinions — with all due respect — would be totally dated, inconsistent and not relevant would be my guess,” Lidow said. “I would really want to look around the room and see people I recognize from around campus.”

Miranda said she would have preferred to be punished directly by the administration.

“Having your friends on your Honor Board case, and then the next day seeing them, it’s just awkward,” Miranda said. “It makes things different between you.”

Head of School Jeanne Huybrechts acknowledged that the process of going before the Honor Board might not be pleasant for students.

“All in all I think it’s a good system. I think giving students that authority and responsibility is a good thing,” she said. “But I think it might be very uncomfortable. I can only imagine.”

Huybrechts said when the board was first created, going before it was optional for students who violated the Honor Code; it later became mandatory.

Lidow said that sometimes the Honor Board will receive positive feedback from a student that appeared before it.

“[Sometimes] a kid comes back and says, ‘You know, I really screwed up the first time, I get it. I got it in the case and I got it even more through your recommendations,” Lidow said. “That’s just the best feeling.”

“I think the Honor Board is such a great thing,” Lidow said. “I think a student would be missing out if they didn’t do it.”

 

Fewer cases

In years past, the Honor Board has heard an average of 20 cases per year, Lidow said. This year, the board has heard 10 cases thus far. Young and Lidow believe this decrease was caused by the new policy allowing teachers to handle minor first infractions.

The first step in implementing this policy was defining “minor.” Each department has created a policy for which infractions are considered.

“In most cases it’s been defined by the size of the assignment,” Young said. “A minor typically would be something like a homework or a lab, whereas a major would be more like a test or a large paper.”

The policy was enacted by the administration last year at the suggestion of the faculty.

While Head of Upper School Harry Salamandra believes the policy has been effective, he recognized that the policy is still in the trial stage and is open to repealing the policy should it prove ineffective.

“At least the feedback that I can give you from here seems like it’s working,” Salamandra said. “Is this the way to go? I don’t know the answer to that yet. I think it’s worth keeping it open to the point where if it seems to be problematic in the future, maybe there is a better way to handle it.”

While Lidow understands why a teacher might want to handle minor infractions on their own, he believes that the Honor Board should address all infractions, whether they are minor or major.

“I think the administration made a big mistake [by implementing this policy],” Lidow said. “When a teacher comes in for an Honor Board case, they spend time talking with us on how they want it handled or they would like it addressed and we always, without fail, incorporate that. There is no reason why that bad instance in the classroom a week earlier can’t be transferred or addressed in an Honor Board case.”

Lidow said that by allowing teachers to handle minor first infractions, the administration is undermining the board’s work.

“I think the administration should either be 100 percent behind the Honor Board or 100 percent behind something else,” he said. “I want those cases back.”

Lidow believes this new policy is part of a larger problem in the administration’s attitude towards the Honor Board.

“I feel like in all honesty, over the years the appreciation, interest and desire to have and see the board do what it does is kind of waning,” he said.

The administration could show more support, Lidow said, by sending a letter to teachers to remind them that they must refer all major infractions to the Honor Board. Lidow believes that there have been cases where teachers have not brought major violations before the board.

 

Future changes

While the prefects try to improve the Honor Board process for students who violate it, plans to change the way the entire community perceives the Honor Code have come to a halt.In 2008, prefects submitted proposals to Huybrechts which included an education program for parents and students about the Honor Code, Head Prefect Tasia Smith ’08 told the Chronicle two years ago.

Another proposal was to abolish Turnitin at the start of each school year, with the contingency that if a student was caught plagiarizing, Turnitin would be reinstituted for that student’s grade.

“Just as we were negotiating that, the cheating scandal broke out,” Young said.

Since then, there has been little talk of amending Honor Code policies. Lidow believes that for the most part, the Honor Code in its current form does not need to be revised.

“Right now as vague documents go, we’ve got a fantastic vague document,” Lidow said. “Part of the beauty of it, I think we’ve come to see, is that in its vagueness it makes our job easier because we are not limited to interpreting actions one way or another.”

Director of Student Affairs and Prefect Council adviser Jordan Church believes that at some point the prefects might revisit the Turnitin policy and push the idea of having everyone in the community sign the Honor Code, which was also suggested two years ago.

“I think at some point they will address those two things again,” Church said.

“If you are going to do stuff, it kind of has to be small and very thoughtful,” Lidow said. “You can’t make too many changes to it or else it starts to lose its composition and purpose.”

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