Prefects evaluate Honor Code

It was supposed to be a discussion about the Honor Code. Senior Prefects David A. Alpert ’08 and Emma Kaplan ’08 were on stage during the senior assembly to moderate and take notes respectively, and Senior Prefects Gaven Lucas ’08 and Hannah Moody ’08 prowled the aisles with microphones.

Head Prefect Tasia Smith ’08 said they intended to propose questions to the student body like “Why did they write the Honor Code back then? Why is it important? And what does it give our school that not having the Honor Code might not?”

After opening up the floor for discussion the meeting quickly got off topic.

Students brought up the English department’s policy on Sparknotes, the administration’s involvement in outside of school activities, people skipping days of school when they have tests or papers due and someone signing out under Drew Foster’s ’08 name.

Students became accusatory. One student said that the “Honor Code just blows things up,” and asked to know more about the Honor Board’s decisions.

The deans, who were asked to leave so the students could feel free to say what they felt, could hear yelling from Rugby lobby, Dean Tamar Adegbile said.

The meeting was arranged as part of an assessment of the Honor Code’s role in the school community that the Prefect Council and specifically their newly created Honor Code subcommittee, including Smith and Alpert, are conducting.

Forums are being held at all class meetings, and members of the subcommittee are meeting with faculty departments.

“From what we heard at the end we were particularly disappointed with the seniors,” said Adegbile, who is also a subcommittee faculty adviser with Prefect Council adviser Father J. Young.

Adegbile said she wanted to dispel the rumor brought up in the meeting by one senior girl that deans were in the tech booth filming the meeting for the administration. She said that in fact two junior Prefects, Ariana Sopher ’09 and Tessa Wick ’09, were filming because the Prefects had been working on public speaking and stage presence with drama teacher Ted Walch.

“The idea was to have a discussion,” Smith said after the meeting. She was interrupted by Alpert: “It’s whatever discussion the kids wanted, and this is what they wanted, I guess.”

Members of the Prefect Council said that the junior class meeting that took place on Wednesday of that week was less unruly.

“It was productive,” Director of Studies Jordan Church said.

Kaplan, who moderated the senior class meeting and was present for the junior class meeting, also thought it went better.

“Students were really verbal about what they thought about the Code and they had a lot of ideas and a lot of comments that we hadn’t thought about and I thought it was a really good idea to come to the class,” she said. 

Brandon Levin ’09 said there were some problems in the junior assembly having to do with rambunctious students, but based on what he heard it was not as chaotic as the senior class meeting.

“It was not as much of out of control ruckus as the senior class meeting was,” Levin said.

Smith heard that students used the event to vent on issues unrelated to the Honor Code. 

 “One of my friends in my bio class actually said, ‘you know that people were using it as a forum to take out their frustrations,’” she said. “She said the person who brought up skipping out on test days, well, they were sitting in a group where they had a friend who skips out on test days all the time and they didn’t want to say it to their friend so they did it in this forum.”

Smith did admit that the Prefect Council was at some fault.

“We didn’t do a good enough job of getting it on track at the beginning,” she said.

While Janaye Walker ’08 said she thought students were “rude” she expressed disillusionment with the Honor Code.

“The Honor Code doesn’t define how people are supposed to run their lives,” Walker said. “People are going to do what they want.”

The idea for the subcommittee arose out of discussions led by Young with the Prefect Council regarding the Honor Code.

“Kids don’t even know what the Honor Code is. They don’t know how it would apply in their lives,” Smith said. “The whole reason we have an Honor Board is to enforce the Code, and if no one really knows about the Code, then there is no point in having a board.”

The Faculty
A letter sent by subcommittee faculty adviser Young and Head of School Jeanne Huybrechts to all upper school faculty expressed concern that teachers do not have consistent beliefs as to what role the Honor Code and Honor Board should play in our school community, nor do they have consistent methods in dealing with what they consider violations.

Huybrechts related an incident in which she overheard a teacher dealing with a case in which the teacher believed students were collaborating a little too closely on a lab report.

Huybrechts said she thought that when the teacher is not sure about the circumstances then the case should not go to the Honor Board. She said that  she is not sure whether the specific policy is even written anywhere.

“When there isn’t a written policy,” Huybrechts said, “sometimes there isn’t a policy at all.”

Smith said they cannot be sure how many teachers take matters into their own hands, but she knows some do.

“I think there are cases that teachers feel better about dealing with themselves,” Smith said. “Some things teachers don’t want to go through the hassle so they won’t bring it up at all.”

Smith also noted that in smaller first offenses the Honor Board is now holding “abridged cases.”

“The truth is that at some point there is a gray area between what constitutes a case and what doesn’t constitute a case,” Young said.

The subcommittee has met with the performing arts department and the foreign language department so far and Smith said they have been happy with the results.

They have three department meetings this week with the math, visual arts and English departments and they plan to complete all of their meetings before the end of the semester.

Young said they did not want to release too many details about their findings since they have not spoken to a majority of the departments yet.

Smith, who sat in on the foreign language meeting, said “they brought up concerns about how the Board functions, and that’s valid. They were positive, which was good. I was glad to hear that they were so positive about it and they did believe in it.”

Foreign Language Department Head Javier Zaragoza said his department’s meeting with the subcommittee “was right on the money,” Zaragoza said.  “The whole issue usually begins with faculty so the faculty needs to know what the philosophy is.”

Zaragoza said they discussed that teachers are often “hesitant” to send students to the Honor Board. They talked about going through the deans.

“It relieves the teacher from being guilty over being the one who sent ‘Jimmy’ to the Honor Board,” Zaragoza said.

Zaragoza said that the existence of the Honor Code and Board has changed the way he teaches.
“It has led me to be a more vigilant teacher, not a distrustful teacher,” Zaragoza said.

The Goal
Smith said that even she believes the Honor Code is “nebulous.”

“Throughout discussions on the Prefect Council and especially this year and throughout subcommittee I’ve come to a much greater understanding and I completely believe in it now, and I don’t think I could have said that last year,” Smith said.

The entire program is working toward developing an enhanced  community of trust, a phrase members of the Prefect Council refer to a lot.

“Our subcommittee started meeting weekly and we talked about how we wanted to educate the community about the Honor Code and we decided that the Honor Code really creates a community where you are responsible to your peers and to everyone in the community to uphold that,” Smith said.
Young said the process of reexamining the Honor Code, something which he said has only been done in isolated doses since its implementation, will be a long one.

“It’s a pretty sophisticated philosophical understanding that we are asking the entire community to buy into, and so it’s unfortunately not something that you can put out in a memo or stand up before them in a five minute lecture,” Young said.