Six Things to Know about the MICDS Honor Council and Disciplinary Process
High school poses many challenges for kids to navigate. Through this experience, they will invariably make the occasional mistake; falling short and learning from such moments are very much a part of growing up. Most of these mistakes will be small, but every now and then, a student will misstep more significantly. When our kids find themselves in this situation, it is hard for us as parents to figure out how best to support them through both the learning experience and the accompanying accountability.
Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of How to Raise and Adult, says it well when she explains this parenting paradigm. “Sure, privately we might want to wring their necks with our own hands, but our mama and papa bear protective instincts come on strong when it seems our kids are backed into a corner. Sometimes we find the wherewithal to take a really deep breath and do the right thing—hear the facts, talk with the parties involved, sit down with our child and have a conversation about values, actions, and consequences, and then implement those consequences. But sometimes, fearing that the incident will go on their “permanent record,” which we want to prevent at all costs, we come out swinging while our kids stand either meekly or smugly just off to the side.”
These moments demand the very best of us as parents and educators, just as they do of our young people. Maintaining a compassionate lens, while also holding firm in the consequences that are critical to the integrity of the student body as a whole, is vital to ensuring our students recognize that their actions impact those around them and reverberate widely. No matter what, our intent is to help our kids grow from these mistakes, which sometimes means embracing teachable moments that necessitate stronger consequences. As Lythcott-Haimes says “when the teachable moments go untaught, what our kids get in exchange is the moral or ethical shortcomings that come from getting away with stuff.”
With this in mind, there are six important components of our process for addressing those moments when kids misstep that I think are important to clarify.
- Our Student Honor Council (HC) plays a major role in disciplinary decisions regarding academic dishonesty. While some disciplinary issues transcend what would be appropriate for peer adjudication, our student-run Honor Council investigates, holds hearings with the students involved and offers recommendations based on precedent to the Head of Upper School when students plagiarize, cheat or are otherwise dishonest in their academic work. There is tremendous import and growth when peers review such transgressions, and the HC makes recommendations to the Disciplinary Council that are critical to ensuring that we provide students with fair, consistent and restorative consequences. Upholding community expectations is also a big focus.
- Our Deans reach out to parents in immediate partnership when a student has been accused of wrongdoing, either academic or otherwise. We recognize the stress that these moments create for families and are committed to partnering with parents to explain the process, work together to ensure their son or daughter leans into the challenge and presents their very best self, as well as navigate whatever consequences emerge to give that student an opportunity to own their mistakes and to grow from the experience, however challenging that proves to be.
- There are a range of consequences and restorative opportunities that emerge from the disciplinary process, but one of the most significant distinctions is between separations and suspensions. Both consequences remove the student from the learning community for a certain period of time for reflection and to enforce community norms, but separations do not include the necessity of reporting in the college admissions process. Colleges will ask whether an applicant has been suspended during high school, and suspensions must be reported. While we cannot be certain how colleges will respond to suspensions, we do know that those students who have demonstrated responsibility, humility and growth from suspensions are often able to turn them into moments of strength in the college application process. Those students who struggle the most are those who are never able to fully accept accountability for their own actions.
- While there will always be misperceptions about the disciplinary process and how it is applied, our commitment has always been to err on the side of compassion and learning opportunities for our students when they make mistakes. The majority of cases that are adjudicated through the HC and the Disciplinary Committee fall short of suspension or expulsion as an outcome, though there are certainly violations of community norms that are egregious enough to warrant stronger consequences.
- Our kids who develop the most resilience and growth are those students who fully embrace the importance of honesty, transparency and ownership of their actions and demonstrate this realization in their response to the process. We have been so grateful for the example of parents who compassionately support their kids, but who ultimately work with us to ensure their sons and daughters have the opportunity to demonstrate this ownership.
- Precedent drives most discipline decisions, though we obviously sometimes come across things that are new and don’t have past history. Factors include significance of offense, track record of student, honesty in process, impact on community and assessment of intent.
It is imperative that we work to be consistent and fair in our decision making as an administration, especially around issues of discipline and support for students. To that end, we review discipline data to ensure we are being consistent and fair to ALL students, regardless of gender, socioeconomic status, race, ability, how long they have been in our community or other factors. This is a critical conversation that must be ongoing, but this commitment to being consistent and compassionate has to be at the very heart of the work we do for this community.