Following this year’s handbook revisions, Deerfield no longer requires students to report their disciplinary records to their colleges and opens up the possibility for students to clear their Disciplinary Probation status. The handbook also details a new rule regarding respectful speech.
Every summer, the school administration revises the student handbook, Rules and Expectations for Deerfield Students, based on reflection upon the prior year. In an email sent to students earlier this term, Dean of Students Samuel Bicknell emphasized, “All of the changes we make each year are designed to create the best environment for learning from mistakes and living out school values.”
Assistant Head of School for Student Life Amie Creagh said, “due to the Action Plan and the Discipline Review Task Force’s (DRTF) efforts, the [student handbook] changes were broader, deeper and more comprehensive.” Ms. Creagh helps lead the annual revision of the student handbook, but this past summer was the first time the DRTF was involved in the process.
One of these major changes reflected in the updated student handbook is the revision of the College Notification Policy. The DRTF determined that, from now on, students will hold sole responsibility in reporting any history regarding disciplinary action to colleges. Previously, students self reported and the school contributed an official record as well.
Deerfield’s decision to revise the College Notification Policy coincided with the Common Application’s removal of disciplinary reporting. This change was announced in September of 2020, to be implemented for the 2021-2022 school year.
Despite this coincidence, the change was not influenced by the Common App’s decision; it was actually Deerfield’s effort to further show compassion to those students who have experienced disciplinary action. Assistant Head of School for Academic Affairs and Strategy Dr. Ivory Hills said, “We continue to be a two strike school rather than a one strike school because we think people can recover from their mistakes.”
A second motivation for the change was to make AHC and DC hearings more effective. Dr. Hills said, “we can tell students who are undergoing a disciplinary response that it really is not going to be an issue, that it might not even be reported [to colleges].” According to Dr. Hills, this reassurance will allow students to have productive conversations regarding their actions and what they may do differently going forward. He hopes the College Notification Policy change will eliminate the students’ fears during these hearings that often impede the opportunity to learn from their mistakes.
Though this question on disciplinary history was removed from the common section of the Common App, the vast majority of individual schools may still choose to include either the same question or a version of it on their applications.
Another significant change was the revision of the Disciplinary Probation policies. As opposed to previous years, students now have the opportunity to potentially remove their Disciplinary Probation status before the end of their Deerfield career.
At the start of a probation period, each student will create a personal Restorative Practices Program with the intention of keeping the student accountable for achieving tangible goals regarding the disciplinary action taken against them.
After the minimum duration of Disciplinary Probation, which is decided by the Disciplinary Committee, a student may propose a written petition and a completed Restorative Practices Program to the Dean of Students. They will then bring the petition and completed Program to the adult members from the student’s original DC hearing to determine whether the student will be removed from Disciplinary Probation or not.
According to Ms. Creagh, the implementation of the Restorative Practices Program is one example of a revision encouraged by DEER (Discipline, Educate, Empower, Reconcile), a student-led proposal to the school to integrate restorative discipline into its disciplinary system.
The handbook also added Rule 1.8 regarding Conscientious Speech and Expression. This new rule emphasizes that Deerfield is a learning environment, and therefore the community must be open to engage in discussions that may sometimes feel uncomfortable. With this philosophy in mind, the rule asserts that students should be respectful of other perspectives while engaging in such discourse. Dr. Hills believes this policy to be the best method of preparing students for real life experiences and controversies.
According to Dr. Hills, Rule 1.8 may cover the domain of instances such as the discussion of a text that uses slurs or trigger warnings within the classroom. In application, however, the implications of the rule will be unique to each situation as it strives to account for context. In simple terms, Dr. Hills summarized the rule: “We believe in freedom of expression– don’t be a jerk about it.”
Other minor revisions to the student handbook include specifications in wordings of The Mistreatment of Others Policy and the Harrassment, Bullying, and Discrimination Policy in the interest of clarity. In order to receive the most comprehensive and up to date understanding of Deerfield’s expectations for every community member, students should refer directly to the student handbook.
Each year the student handbook is reviewed with the intention of bettering the experiences of students in the Deerfield community. If this year’s revisions to the handbook do not prove to be effective, there are always opportunities to adapt, and therein lies, as Dr. Hills put it, “the dynamic nature of the school,” which is “possibly one of its greatest strengths.”