The school website states that “Harvard-Westlake’s academic community is defined by our Honor Code.” Every student on campus has signed their name affirming their commitment to uphold the code. In it, we promise to not cheat, not steal and not harm others, and we also promise to be honest with ourselves and our administration.
We take our pledge seriously. That’s why when the school instituted its “Take Pride in Honesty and Own It” Coachella absence policy, many students understood that they would likely receive a detention. But while the official policy for an unexcused absence includes consequences of an automatic detention and possible zeros on any missed assignments, it seems that these punishments are more enforced for Coachella-related absences than others. For example, students who miss school for family vacations or other non-school related trips are rarely faced with the same consequences.
Unfortunately, we’ve seen that although students are encouraged to be honest, their integrity was punished. While some teachers were understanding, especially to seniors, respecting their decision to reserve one weekend at the end of their high school careers, others further disciplined students by choosing to give them zeros on the assignments they missed and reprimanding them in class. We find such punishment to be both unfair and contrary to the school’s values. Students who attended the festival could have easily told the attendance office they were sick or made another excuse, but in the spirit of integrity, most did not. We think students’ honesty should be commended; the punishment they receive should be no more severe than the detention they expected.
Coachella is but a symptom of a larger problem. Oftentimes at Harvard-Westlake, students find themselves making a choice between telling the truth and academic success. This year, there have been many Honor Board cases involving students giving or receiving unauthorized aid on science labs; it’s no secret that many students use completed labs from previous years to help them complete their own or work alongside other students.
According to the April Chronicle poll, 36 percent of 314 students who responded said they regularly consult other students’ lab reports prior to turning in their own. This statistic is alarmingly high; if so many students feel compelled to cheat in order to do well, then it speaks more to the pressure that students are under rather than their academic dishonesty. We understand that actions have consequences and students who are caught cheating on labs should face punishment, but in addition to focusing on disciplining students, teachers and administrators should also reevaluate the academic environment at school and the unforgivingly high expectations they have for every assignment.
The school recently announced in their Visions for 2020 that “happiness and balance will become primary values in the HW culture.” We believe that giving students more opportunities to uphold their integrity goes hand-in-hand with promoting balance and happiness. By being understanding in their expectations and setting reasonable deadlines, teachers can help achieve this goal. The right decision is not always the easy one. But if we’re expected to uphold our integrity, then we should have the unyielding support and encouragement from the adults
in our community.