With three Disciplinary Committee (DC) cases in the course of four weeks this fall, there has been much controversy over changes in current policy as well as discussion on developments that could improve the current system.
A tangible change has been made to the “scope of jurisdiction” clause: this clarifies students’ responsibilities on and off campus. Dean of Students Amie Creagh said, “The scope and jurisdiction was revised from last year, because we had someone point out to us that if all the rules applied to students on and off campus, then that would mean they would have to be in dress code, and that whenever they are at home and a friend comes over who is of the opposite gender then they would have to leave a light on and keep a trash can in the door.”
Ms. Creagh continued to say that it’s not the minor rules that are supposed to be upheld, but rather the hope that students will represent Deerfield in the best way possible. “It was basically putting a finer point on our expectations for kids, and being pretty philosophical in the way we expect them to conduct themselves when they are off campus,” she explained.
In response to the new rules, Kristen Veiga, a DC faculty member, said, “In terms of kids being held accountable off campus, I think the 630 students that attend Deerfield are wonderful kids. But they are also really lucky to be here because we have a ton of applicants every year, and I think it’s a fair expectation for students to behave according to our rule-book on and off campus.”
In addition to refining exactly where to draw the line on disciplinary action, another issue is how to encourage good decisions after bad ones have been made and how to foster a community where forthrightness and honesty are central to every student’s moral compass.
Ms. Creagh said, “If we acknowledge that high school is a place where mistakes are made, you’re trying to figure out who you are and where your boundaries are—if those tensions are just naturally a part of high school—[we need to focus on] how we encourage kids to learn something from their mistakes. And after a bad decision, how we can show the way towards good decision-making.”
A few weeks ago, John Jackson ’14 and Oli Merison ’14 presented to the disciplinary committee their considerations regarding disciplinary action, and whether or not honesty and sincerity should be considered when determining punishments.
Jackson commented, “In the Deerfield rulebook the following is written: ‘At Deerfield we value honesty above all.’ If Deerfield truly values honesty, why don’t we consider honesty outside of a disciplinary case?” Jackson raises the issue that by not adding any incentive the school is essentially condoning dishonesty and fostering a culture of lying.
Jackson continued, “Since the DC committee doesn’t consider honesty outside of a DC hearing, students believe that it is all right to lie and deceive prior to the hearing, because their punishment would be the same either way. There is something blatantly wrong with this policy. There should be some sort of incentive for kids to be honest and come forward.”
Jackson and Merison imply that honesty should be more fully promoted throughout school life, particularly before DC hearings. They also raise the concerns that students’ intentions may be susceptible to change. Jackson explained, “Deerfield students range from 14 to 19 years old. Most of us are still adolescents. Our decision-making skills are skills aren’t fully developed. With an incentive, the school can help students make the right decision and be honest.”
English teacher Michael Schloat feels that honesty should be expected without any need for stimulus. Mr. Schloat said, “Honesty in all matters should be a foundational expectation of all members of the Deerfield community, not an option someone may choose to help mitigate his or her punishment.”
Mr. Schloat expanded on his opinion by saying, “Consider this analogy: we don’t hand out ‘Citizenship Points’ to students who come to class on time or adhere to the dress code. Rather, we assign ‘Accountability Points’ to those who fail to meet this expectation. The reward for those who meet expectations is a sense of mutual respect and shared ownership of the common enterprise of our academic pursuits together.”
Tyler O’Neill ’14, a senior on the Disciplinary Committee, agreed with Jackson and Merison but also maintained the concern that honesty not be incentivized, but rather be an expectation. O’Neill stated, “I believe that a student’s honesty, leading up to the hearing, should be portrayed in the punishment. At the same time, the motive of coming forward should not be to receive a lesser punishment, but because it is morally right. I would like to see variability in the punishments of DCs with a lesser punishment given to students who come forward and are honest from the beginning.”