In an email detailing the updated student conduct system, sent almost a year ago, Dr. Raynard Kington, Head of School, wrote: “In addition to all the wonderful things you will accomplish over your Andover career, there will be times when you make mistakes of all different types and impacts. We are committed to helping you learn in those moments… Increasingly, evidence shows that high-stakes consequences, such as suspension and dismissal, often do not effectively change behavior or promote growth.” However, the recent email regarding updated unexcused absence policies, sent by Dr. Susan Esty, seems to mark a departure from this philosophy. Though the updated policy intends to find ways to provide supportive interventions, the heavy-handed measures–including GAPs, the removal of dean’s excuses, and dismissal–heavily contradict the movement of our conduct system to be less punitive. This policy update instead imposes restrictions on student growth, potentially interfering with a student’s ability to engage and contribute meaningfully to the Andover community.
Aside from the contents itself, the form in which the policy was communicated to students could be improved. For a major update like this, an effort to verbally communicate changes to students in person in spaces like advising or All-School Meetings, paired with a summative email sent afterward. Following the release of the email, much of the board had questions with nowhere to direct them. Receiving this message through email, an unidirectional channel, the board felt the administration had created a stopgap between the administration and the student body.
According to Esty’s email, the main goal of the newly implemented policy was “Standardizing our responses to unexcused absences.” Despite their attempt, the new policy introduces even greater disparities than before. Previously, house counselors and point persons were responsible for keeping track of absences and enforcing their own punishments. While the new policy does outline sets of responses for tiers of unexcused absences, the combination or selection of punishments is still decided by the core team. When a student obtains three unexcused absences, their core team can decide to enforce three Friday night restrictions or three nights in a study center. These are two drastically different responses for the same violation and go against the expectation of a standardized response. Furthermore, this policy disproportionately affects boarding students. Many of the responses are inapplicable to day students or are simply impossible to enforce. In place of weekend restrictions, day students are forced to leave campus. Not only is this an unequal alternative, but there is little the administration can do to ensure day students abide by this rule. Moreover, withholding access to Dean’s excuses and Reach requests does not apply to day students. By implementing responses that are simply inapplicable, this new policy fails to hold 25% of students accountable and unfairly punishes the boarding community.
Moving forward, the process of making major changes to policies should include student voices, which historically has not occurred. This has been apparent in the most recent policy change instituted without forewarning. According to other board members, students around them have also communicated their dissatisfaction regarding the timing of this policy change, contributing to confusion and uncertainty in a commonly stressful term. The board believes students should be included in conversations regarding school policies, whether it’s the most recent change or one in the future.