New rules, suppressed recommendations shine spotlight on Honor Board practices

By Dana Glaser and Lucy Jackson

Two “formal leaks” of confidentiality led the administration to withhold results of two recent Honor Board cases to protect the privacy of students involved, Head of School Jeanne Huybrechts said Sunday. The administration’s decision not to release the customary reports, along with the creation of guidelines defining which infractions will be tried by the Honor Board and the usual influx of semester-end cases, has focused attention on the Honor Board in the last two months.

This is the first time in history that the board’s recommendation was not released to the student body, said Head of Upper School Harry Salamandra.

The new policy requires teachers to report every student offense to a dean, but allows teachers to handle minor first offenses as they see fit.

It is unclear how much the new policy has affected or will affect the Honor Board case load, if at all, Salamandra said.

Defining the gray area implied in the term “minor” is a concern the Honor Board hopes to address “right off the bat” Chaplain Father J. Young said. Members of the Prefect Council plan to sit down with different departments within the next three weeks to clarify what assignments or offenses qualify.

“I think to a certain degree what we’re doing is putting into policy the practice that has already been in place,” Young said. “I think we’re just understanding why the teachers weren’t bringing everything to us.”

At a series of breakfast meetings Huybrechts held last semester, many teachers expressed a desire to have the opportunity to work with students one-on-one and to mete out punishment at their own discretion, Huybrechts said.

Salamandra said the teachers develop relationships with students and may be best suited to handle some offenses.

“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.

The administration felt it could give the teachers the ability to handle minor offenses without compromising the Honor Board process, he said, but the policy could lessen the role of the Honor Board in disciplinary proceedings.

“One thing that’s unfortunate about the new policy is that I think the Honor Board is a good experience for a lot of kids,” Head Prefect Tessa Wick ’09 said.

The policy replaces an earlier experiment referred to by Huybrechts as “Honor Board Light.” The streamlined process for minor infractions, involving two Honor Board members and one faculty member, began last year when Honor Board members attended individual department meetings to investigate why teachers didn’t seem to be sending cases to the board. They discovered that some teachers preferred not to report minor infractions because cases became time consuming and bureaucratic, Huybrechts said.

Under the new system, although punishment for minor transgressions would vary by the teacher, deans would act as a point of consistency, which wasn’t where it should have been, Salamandra said.

There have been nine cases since the policy was implemented, for a total of 10 this school year, Wick said. But chaplain Father J. Young said he saw no direct correlation.

“If you charted all the cases we’ve had in years past, they absolutely do fall around winter break and the end of the school year.”

Two cases in this onslaught, however, have set another new precedent: the recommendations made in the cases will not be released to the school community due to a breach in confidentiality, Salamandra told students in an e-mail last week. Salamandra qualified a breach as a formal leak made by someone who was “intimate with the case” other than the involved students themselves.

The normal procedure is for the Honor Board to release an anonymous summary of events, as well as the recommended punishment, to the student body after the administration has finalized it.

“Obviously publishing a rec in anybody’s case does to some degree infringe on the confidentiality,” Young said. “So there’s a balance there that we try to strike between a person’s confidentiality versus the need for the community to know and learn from other people’s mistakes.”

Salamandra said he sent the e-mail to students because it had been “a long time” since the two cases were heard.

“Once that breach was made we needed to weigh how much it was going to affect the case,” he said. “We would like to post these things if at all possible, but at the moment we still feel like we can’t.”

“There are pieces still dangling, and not all the pieces have been put together yet,” he said.

Huybrechts said the administration was not waiting for new information.

“I’m not sure I know what [Salamandra] is talking about,” she said. “I don’t see that there are any loose ends to tie up in this particular case – I think that there was a breach in confidentiality so we made a decision not to post them.”

Huybrechts confirmed that two leaks divulged enough information that if the anonymous recommendations were released, it would reveal the individuals involved.

It is unclear who caused that breach, although the e-mail said “confidentiality was not breached by the Honor Board.”