Peer School Students Deem Disciplinary Processes Fair; Most Similar to PA’s

Despite the general similarities in the discipline systems of Andover and many of its peer schools, Phillips Academy is set apart by its Cluster-based system and lack of physical drug tests. Analysis of the disciplinary system at Phillips Academy and its fairness has become especially pertinent as the community considers the use of a breathalyzer on campus and continues a schoolwide discussion of honesty. PA students who violate a major rule go before a Disciplinary Committee (DC), composed of that student’s cluster dean, house counselor, cluster-elected DC representatives, and a student-chosen peer representative. Andover’s unique cluster-based system has endured since 1970 with the philosophy that a more personal process allowed the fairest and most informed decision possible. However, some believe that having a school-wide system is fairer because it makes punishments more uniform. A committee met earlier this year to consider centralizing PA’s system, and came to the decision that the more personal nature of a cluster-contained DC hearing is too valuable to change. The disciplinary systems at Exeter, Choate, Loomis, St. Paul’s, Lawrenceville and Northfield Mount Hermon all use school-wide committees composed of students, faculty and other officials to determine appropriate responses to varying infractions. Students at these schools have expressed general contentment with their disciplinary systems. At St. Paul’s, each disciplinary decision goes through the Head of School, who determines the final response. With an individualized response system, punishments are not written in the handbook and not determined until after the DC. SPS also has a Drug and Alcohol Assessment Committee that determines the frequency of random drug tests and urine samples issued after a student’s first substance abuse infraction. St. Paul’s Vice Rector for Students Douglas Dickson said, “If a student is found using [during a test,] he or she is back in the same situation as in the first DC. It would usually mean separation from school.” Lawrenceville’s policy allows students to be tested for drugs and alcohol after a first offense. Loomis shares the same policy, administering drug and alcohol tests for one year after the first offense. “Something we’re very proud of [is that] we did [have] a lot of dialogue with the students and faculty and we were surprised to find that students didn’t mind the use of breathalyzers [or random drug tests] when they found out it was only used on kids [after] a prior offense or to prove innocence,” said Ruthanne Marchetti, Dean of Boarding Girls at Loomis. As Andover considers getting a Breathalyzer, administrators will strive to encourage honesty by eliminating the incentive to lie about drinking, while maintaining student-faculty trust. However, some students believe a Breathalyzer indicates mistrust. Paz Mendez Hodes ’07, a WQS DC representative, said, “I think that the nice thing about the Phillips Academy DC system is that it’s supposed to be like a conversation rather than a trial, and I think that if you introduce physical checks on a student’s word, then the hostility between the students and the administration that already exists would spiral.” Unlike Andover, Lawrenceville and Milton publicly announce results of DC hearings to the student body. This policy helps eliminate the rumors surrounding discipline cases, although some view the disclosure of information as an invasion of privacy. At Exeter, DC Representatives are only allowed to disclose certain aspects of a case.They may reveal the result and the voting count, but not which way specific faculty members voted. Having a DC for major offenses is meant to ensure fairness in more severe cases. As a result, most students feel that the system is as fair as it can be. At NMH, committees are objective in that people who know the student in question are not selected. In addition, a student or faculty member may remove themselves from the committee if they feel they cannot be objective. Some students are allowed to select an advocate for their case. At St. Paul’s, the student in trouble is allowed to bring in one advocate in addition to their faculty advisor. Student Council Vice President Annie Brown said, “I believe that our system is fair and allows students and faculty to voice their opinions in disciplinary situations.” At Lawrenceville, a student is also allowed to select a faculty member of his or her choice. Mendez Hodes ’07 said, “I think that students who think that Cluster Deans are responsible for unfairness should realize that they probably don’t understand what’s going on.” “I think the DC does the best job it can at being fair. How black and white the incident is would probably determine how fair the DC is,” said Loomis graduate Leecey Cameron ’06. Most students at Andover’s peer schools agree that DC hearings make disciplinary action fairer than it would be if there were automatic consequences for specific rule violations. The majority of students appreciate that the DC considers a student’s character, past record and the circumstances surrounding the rule violation. Most students value student input in a DC hearing, even though student representatives do not have a final say in disciplinary response. According to Exeter DC Representative Sekhar Paladugu ’08, “It was actually the students themselves who asked not to have the responsibility of voting.” Paladugu continued, “Because they are not held to this responsibility, students are able to fully consider everything presented to them, without being forced to sort it into two distinct categories. All student members of the DC take seriously their responsibilities of considering all aspects of each case and providing student input to help faculty in their decision-making.” “I know teachers have told me before… the student point of view on the cases affected their decision. While it might not seem as apparent for each case, I’d say on the big cases and when the faculty members aren’t quite sure about what to do, that’s when the students view is needed. It’s certainly necessary and I’d say helpful for the committee to have that input from us,” said Tim Moore, another Exeter DC representative. Students at many of our peer schools cited student input as the most valuable aspect of a DC, and a contributing factor to the fairness of disciplinary action. One Exeter student said, “I feel that the way the DC works is fine, but I feel like the student’s friend’s opinion is disregarded and that faculty only hear what they want to hear.” Exeter DC Representative Laura Shen said, “I think if there is a lot of discontentment following a case it’s really just because kids don’t want to say goodbye to their friends.” Both Exeter’s ‘E’ Book and the Blue Book state the administration’s right to dismiss a student who commits a major offense. Major disciplinary decisions at Andover and its peer schools are made according to the specifics of each case, students are generally given a second chance after their first major offense. Like Andover, NMH is a second-chance school for most academic or drug cases, except drug dealing. Nevertheless, NMH Associate Dean of Students Nate Hemphill said, “We will certainly be willing to kick kids out for a flagrant first [offense].”