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Accountability Points Neglect the Real Problem
Scroll XCVI Board
February 2, 2022

The vast majority of Deerfield students have, in one way or another, encountered the Accountability Point (AP) system. 

As the current process stands, with each AP a student receives, both their faculty advisor and dorm resident receive a notification email that outlines the basic details of the student’s “violation.” At this point, it is up to faculty discretion to determine how to proceed. Some faculty may reach out — a quick email or post-check-in chat — while others might choose to disregard the AP notice. Though parents and advisors receive memorandums by email after a student reaches Level 1 and 2 restrictions, dialogue is only formally initiated when a student reaches Level 3 Restrictions. But why wait to make sure that students are okay?

We propose a new system. The school’s rules should place more emphasis on consistent check-ins on students’ well-being as they accrue AP’s. A standardized — yet compassionate — approach would succeed where our current model fails.

We don’t suggest that a check-in occurs after each AP-notification email. But we could revise the notifications that faculty and dorm residents receive — to, say, prompt them to write a check-in email after three consecutive missed commitments. Perhaps it is only after those three consecutive missed obligations that a notification should be sent in the first place. Of course, three is an arbitrary number; a better number might be two, or four, but the point remains.

We might think more radically and imagine a fully student-oriented, student-centric reform of the Accountability Point system. Take “restrictions study hall,” two-hour work periods held on Friday nights as Deerfield’s version of detention. The message is clear: if you don’t want to work on a Friday night, don’t miss required events and activities. But impersonal punishment neglects the needs of students who are already struggling and feeds into a broader detachment between students and the school’s systems of support. Why expect any real help from a school from which you’re accustomed to receiving punishment?

Perhaps, in conjunction with restrictions study hall, students who accumulate a certain number of APs should be obligated to meet with their advisor or another trusted adult to honestly reflect on their experiences and to make concrete steps toward improvement. Throughout the process, however, the school’s attitude — as conveyed by dorm residents and advisors to administrators in the Student Life Office — to students who are “in trouble” must place the student’s well-being first and punishment second.

We don’t want to undermine the importance of responsible decision-making, and we don’t  want a repeat of the “Honor System,” a short-lived experiment which, in the spring of 2014, ditched AP’s and let students run wild. And we acknowledge that much of the motivation behind the current AP system is in giving students the freedom to skip commitments — the freedom to “spend” AP’s — and that many do. 

But it is dangerous to assume that, when students fail to meet obligations, they have really only decided to “spend” a few of their AP’s. Most students don’t skip class “just for fun” or “just because they can.” Missing classes and other obligations can lead to further mental health burdens, perhaps due to falling behind on material, and is rarely pleasant. Missed obligations often indicate a deeper problem; greater dialogue about AP’s is a way for the school to recognize these problems before they fester. We don’t want students to fall through the cracks.