Student-run organization determines consequences of student violations, if requested
Every August, at the beginning of the school year, all community members sign the Academic Pledge to uphold the school’s three founding tenants – Honor, Respect and Integrity. However, with inevitable violations bound to occur, in 1989 an upper school student recommended creating the Honor Council.
The Honor Council, which is an upper school student-run organization, ensures all members abide by the tenants and determines an appropriate disciplinary response when a member violates the Academic Pledge. The Council consists of three members from each upper school grade, the Student Council executive president and council advisor Mary Jo Lyons.
When a teacher suspects a violation of the Academic Pledge, the faculty member communicates with Assistant Head of Upper School Jeff Laba to decide whether the student committed an offense and if it should go to the Council. Laba then informs the Council and they meet to discuss a possible guilty incident. Possible offenders and their violations remain anonymous until the offender, his/her advisor and the teacher issuing the matter come before the Council. At the meeting, the case is explained by the teacher involved in the situation with the Council alone. It is only after this that the student joins the meeting and shares his or her story. The Council reviews all the information and discusses what level of offense, if any, the student committed and the consequences of the offense.
“I have had [Honor Council] meetings be 15 minutes and some be over an hour,” junior and Honor Council member James Click said. “It just depends on the severity of the case and whether the student is being upfront with what they did. Some students will just automatically say, ‘Yes, I made a mistake,’ but in other instances, the situation can be unclear and last a lot longer. We definitely have had disagreements among guilt and innocence and punishments, but we’ve always been able to work it out where everyone’s content with how we decide the case.”
Once the Council decides on a consequence for the student, they share their recommendation with Head of Upper School Henry Heil for approval or changes. The convicted student, however, may disagree with the Council’s verdict and appeal to Heil’s decision.
“Mr. Heil needs a really good reason to not follow the Honor Council’s recommendation,” Laba said. “Generally, appeals are for [when] there was a mistake in the system or if [the student] just doesn’t agree. The reason this process is there is if you feel like the Honor Council didn’t do something right or if they didn’t hear all the evidence.”
Four-year Honor Council member and senior Charlotte Clark enjoys the equal playing field that all Honor Council members have, despite grade level. All meetings have a chairman and secretary, but both roles rotate each session, that way all members have the same amount of say in the conversation.
“Every voice is the same no matter what age you are, and there are no set positions, which I found really awesome,” Clark said. “Everyone [on the Council] has a chance to exhibit leadership, even though they are already doing that by being on the Honor Council. We are definitely on the down low compared to Student Council, which is a different type of leadership because a lot that the Honor Council does goes unnoticed by the rest of the student body, but it is a kind of leadership that I like to do.”
But things have been different this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Honor Council adapted to include the members who attended school virtually. Also, to comply with social distancing protocols, the Council tried out new spaces to hold their meetings rather than gathering in one of the Frank building classrooms.
“We have a whole set of process and procedures to have [online] waiting rooms and letting people in and asking people to verify they are not recording and that they are alone in the room,” Lyons said, “Last fall, we had our hearing in the Eagle Gallery, and… it was loud, and we had two big glass windows, and we had to get them covered. This semester we tried a room above senior hall and the room set up and acoustics are better, and that’s where we will finish out this year.”
Additionally, despite some students taking part in school online with possible temptations to cheat and pressures regarding the pandemic, the amount of Academic Pledge violations are not more than past years.
“I wouldn’t say that this year is unusually higher or different from past years in terms of number of cases,” Lyons said. “But, I don’t know if there’s instances where teachers are having conversations with students that don’t elevate to the council because we are not privy to that.”
While the Honor Council keeps the names of the individuals who may have violated the academic pledge a secret, community members can find all procedures and rules regarding the Academic Pledge and Honor Council in the Upper School Handbook.
“I think a lot of students and maybe even faculty don’t realize how much is actually in the handbook, and it explicitly walks through the [Honor Council] process and protocol and what the violations are and consequences are,” Lyons said. “I keep the handbook with me for every hearing, and when a student in the Council has a question when deliberating, I can look in the handbook for the answer or ask Mr. Laba. I will always say that I’m impressed with the thoughtfulness and the empathy the students put towards every case that they hear, and I’ve been super impressed with the majority of the group of students that listen to the cases.”