The Honor Council Upholds The Code

Camille Summers

“I think that kids see it purely as a form of punishment,” Mr. Moak said, “but I think kids come out of the honor council seeing it as a crucible learning point..."

The Honor Council is a big part of Lovett’s disciplinary infrastructure. It’s the big guns. The council hears cases of lying, cheating, stealing, and plagiarism. Most students don’t really understand the process of the Honor Council - it just has a stigma against it (obviously students don’t want to go). 

Going before the Honor Council becomes a possibility when a teacher reports a student violating one of the 4 parts of the honor code (lying, cheating, stealing, and plagiarism). The teacher will often report it to a dean and confront the student about their violation, or they will leave it to the dean to handle the situation. 

According to Dean Moak, the biggest spike of cases is usually in November and May before exams and in February, when it gets tough for a student to continue to be motivated, and they might take a shortcut.

Statistically, for the Class of 2020, there were 24 total cases in that class during their 4 years. For the Class of 2019, there were 17 total honor cases. For the Class of 2018, there were 21 total honor cases. 

I spoke with Chandler Kenny, a member of the Honor Council, at the end of fall semester. “This year especially, underclassmen have been getting in trouble for things they didn’t even know were against the honor code,” she said. “Cheating on homework is probably the most common case because students don’t think about the weight that it carries but it's still an honor code violation. Around exam times there is often a spike in cases as students normally become extremely stressed about getting good grades.”

Cases usually begin with a teacher making a report to one of the deans about something they observed. Sometimes the teacher will do their own investigation and have a conversation with the students and sometimes they will just let the deans handle it. 

Mr. Newman, one of the faculty advisors for the Honor Council, explained that it’s never an easy thing to bring a case. He said that when he notices something suspicious in a student’s work, it’s always painful. He might paste the suspicious passage into Google. “If it's not there, great, it's the student’s work,” he said. “But sometimes, it's word for word. My heart just sinks. And I don’t want to bring them in front of the Council, but I have to. It wouldn’t be fair otherwise.”

No one wants to see students mess up, and the Honor Council doesn’t necessarily want to lose an afternoon hearing a case, which can sometimes run until 5:30. “I’m often exhausted after leaving the cases,” Mr. Newman said. “It’s emotionally draining. As much as I know in my heart that it won’t destroy the person’s life by any means, I still know that it will be tough for the kid at the house and there will be a period of time where he or she will be uncomfortable about it.”

During the student’s conversation with the dean, Mr. Moak says that the vast majority of the time, the student will accept responsibility for what they did. “They’ll own the mistake, and really from there we go to the council. They make the ultimate determination of guilt or innocence. That kind of creates separation from the deans having to be the investigator and the jury and the judge. The way our system works essentially, I get the investigation phase, and the council serves as the jury and judge, and their recommendation is given to Mr. Alig to either approve or slightly amend.”

In terms of the actual process, the facts are presented to the dean and the dean shifts into “an advisory role to talk to the student and what to expect and how the process will go,” says Mr. Moak. Students and staff communicate with their parents, and then a council hearing is scheduled. 

During the council hearing, the council will first hear from the faculty member bringing the charge to learn about what happened, what took place, and the assignment. The council may ask questions about how the student is doing in the class or whether it fits any kind of pattern, and then the council will hear from the student. The student will give their story and why they made their choice, and they normally speak about how they will act going forward. The student typically is accompanied by their advisor or another supportive faculty member, who has a chance to speak on their behalf. 

After the student leaves, the Council deliberates. 

The council takes into consideration a number of circumstances: if it's the student's first time in front of the council, how the student participates in class, the weight of the assignment, and the accusation itself. Most first appearances don’t result in probation or suspension. The council normally determines guilt or innocence based on prior situations that were similar. “We try to stay pretty consistent,” says Mr. Moak. 

Ruth McCrady, one of the heads of the Honor Council, says her job is to “preside over all of the meetings and also meet with Mr. Alig to report the consequences that the court decides on for each hearing. The head has the most responsibility on the council, which makes sense because it’s the seniors who have been on the council for the longest.”

Once the decision is made, one of the responsibilities of the Honor Council faculty advisor is to go down with one of the council students to talk to Mr. Alig about the case. “We meet with Mr. Alig after the hearing and let him know what the council’s decision was regarding the consequences,” Chandler says. “Mr. Alig usually has questions about how we got to our decision, and sometimes he makes changes.”

Finally, the advisor has to write a letter to the parents and student about the case and the decision, with a caution about how the student should act going forward. While the letter warns about what could happen if they are found guilty of another violation, it also tries to encourage the student to make better choices so they can remain a part of the Lovett community. 

Detentions, in-school suspensions, or a grade penalty are some of the less intense punishments. The major significant ones involve a “change in status,” which can be probation, suspension, or expulsion. Probation, which is for a set time (often the remainder of a marking period, semester, or year), carries a loss of privileges and a warning that there will be a stricter consequence if they make another mistake, but the student still continues school. Suspension is a set amount of days (any number) that the student must leave the school. Expulsion with the ability to reapply is terminating the student’s school year at Lovett, but they have the option to reapply the following school year. Expulsion without the option to reapply is terminating the student's time as a student at the Lovett School indefinitely. 

“Appearance before the Council” is actually one of the consequences, and for many it can be enough to prevent them from making another mistake, or making one in the first place. “I think that kids see it purely as a form of punishment,” Mr. Moak said, “but I think kids come out of the honor council seeing it as a crucible learning point...It’s good to learn that lesson here at Lovett where the stakes are lower and when there are people that are willing to help you.” 

As far as stakes go, the big question that is typically asked is: “How will this affect my college application process?” Colleges only ask about a student's change in status (probation, suspension, or expulsion). In the past, the college counseling department would report any guilty verdict to a college, but Lovett changed the policy so that only “change in status” violations would be reported. This allows students to learn from a more minor mistake, without it carrying weight beyond Lovett. 

I asked Ms. Hua, one of the college counselors, about reporting violations to colleges, and she said that “when students have a "change in status," it is the student's responsibility to report this information to the colleges on their list. Honesty and self-advocacy go a long way. Our office will support and help students when navigating how to share and what to share.”

Lovett wants to see us achieve our goal, but with the right mindset and without cutting corners. While discussing with Newman the weight of the council, he said, “Everybody graduates. You’ll go to college. I think Lovett and colleges know that everybody makes mistakes.”

Mr. Newman told a story about reporting someone to the Honor Council for stealing a laptop from the Newspaper laptop cart (that should tell you how long ago this was). “I went down to IT, and they pinged the laptop and found out a student stole it. He was dismissed, but he reapplied the next year and came back. I went up and told him that it was really great to see him again and I’m glad he’s back.”

Of course, as much as the deans and Council want students to learn from the experience, they’d prefer for students to avoid appearing in front of the Council in the first place. 

According to Mr. Moak, most of the time cases can be avoided by the student asking a teacher for an extension or talking to the teacher about the situation. Or just taking a late penalty. Most times, extensions are granted. Whether students are appearing for cheating or plagiarism, “the council always recommends taking a late grade before appearing in front of the council,” Mr. Moak says. “A high number of cases could’ve been avoided if there was a conversation with the student admitting they needed a little help or extra time.” 

Lovett does want to see us succeed, and as much as we pull our hair out when we see stacks of green boxes on the MyLion calendar, they just want to try and limit us from making any impulsive decisions as we deal with those boxes. And they know it’s not easy.  

“Listen, how many assemblies have you been to where the speaker tells you your frontal lobe isn’t developed until you’re 27,” says Mr. Newman. “We get it.”

The Lovett School is an independent, coeducational day school where children from Kindergarten through Grade 12 find the courage to explore and the drive to discover.

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