The student run program implements change in the ESD community

Iris Hernandez

At the end of the semester there were six Honor Council cases, all and of these cases, four were found guilty. This is a significant uptick from having one case per month to more than  five in that same time span.

Student Body President Amelia Sinwell believes the uptick was caused by an increase in teacher awareness and implementing that awareness in the classroom.

 “I’m sure, as teachers, it is normal for there to be a pendulum swing between being more vigilant and more relaxed about cheating throughout the years, and as of last semester, we were in the former.” Sinwell, who is a member of the Honor Council, said.

The attitude towards the Honor Council has also changed in the past few years. The Honor Council has transformed from a mysterious disciplinarian to an open and honest form of discipline. Upper School Head Henry Heil implemented in 2019 that Honor Council decisions be made known to the student body, originally by him and now by student members of the council.

“I certainly feel like we put a lot of effort into advertising the benefits of the Honor Council during my time on it,” junior Slaton Strey, former member of the Honor Council, said. “I wouldn’t say that going to the Council is a normalized process because violations of the Honor Code are still frowned upon, but I would say that the fear or confusion of coming before it has been lessened with our new work.”

However, some don’t feel the council has moved away from it’s mysteriousness. They believe they have become less talked about amongst students.

“I feel like in middle school we definitely heard about it more.” Wilson said. “It’s not really talked about that much in upper school. I think it is normalized. I know people go to the honor council, just not people that I know and I don’t hear about it as much.”

The student-run Honor Council was first introduced during the 1989-1990 school year when Student Body President Brian Wharton ’93 suggested the idea to assistant head of upper school Jeff Laba. Wharton then met with Fr. Stephen Swann, founder of ESD, Rebecca Royall, former head of upper school, and Eddie Eason, former dean of students and current director of outdoor education.

“[He proposed it] as a means of making the upper school student body responsible for upholding the School’s Honor Code,” Eason said. “The Student Council and the student body in general strongly supported his proposal.”

He proposed that the Council would consist of three representatives from each grade as well as a teacher sponsor and the student body president. This model is still in place, and Laba has been the sponsor since the second year of its existence.

The Honor Council is very similar to the original; however, it has undergone some major changes. In the beginning, the Council was optional, and appearing before it was at the discretion of each student as they could choose to let their dean determine their consequence  or exoneration.

“It turned out that no students were choosing the Council, so the change was made to make it mandatory,” Laba said. “The Council felt that if the Honor Code was to truly belong to the students, and not the administration, they needed to be involved.”

The Council can now give a multitude of responses from a day of separation or a recommendation of expulsion. The Council also used to see all types of cases, including tardies and uniform violations, which is now addressed by the new disciplinary council, which was created by head of upper school, Henry Heil. This change was made in the early stages of the Council.

“There is definitely a remanence here of it in the culture,” Heil said. “I hear comments from time to time of ‘why is that not going to the honor council?’ I was not aware that the Honor Council ever handled issues that would fall to a disciplinary realm.”

Signing of the Honor Code was also changed. The honor code holds all community members to the same standard of not to lie, cheat or steal, it is signed at the beginning of each school year. It began as a rite of passage into the upper school and was only signed once. It was then changed to a yearly ceremony in the chapel where everyone signed the book. The book then took on a different form, which is individual pages that can be easily displayed in the Swann Building outside of the Eagle’s Nest. This change was made by Heil as well.

“It went into a book, and no one ever saw them,” Heil said. “ What was the point of signing them unless people see that [the students] sign something.”

The Honor Council is still changing and continues to evolve based on student and school needs. The Honor Council constantly  thinks of new ways to stop the students’ urge to cheat.

“No system is perfect, especially one that tackles such large ethical issues, so, yes, I do plan to make some changes,” Sinwellsaid. “I want [to] change a few of the definitions of cheating in the Handbook that many of our cases hinge on, and I want to change the way students feel about coming forward about cheating and hopefully eliminate the ‘all or nothing’ approach to coming forward about cheating.”

Students and teachers are able to make a long-lasting impact by implementing or proposing new ideas.

“Annie Sawers ‘19 had the idea to make a system where students could anonymously submit the methods of cheating, rather than names, to eliminate cheating and also circumvent the ‘anti-snitch’ culture at ESD,” Sinwell said. “This plan never was finalized, so I plan to do so this year.”

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