Regional Board Votes on Honor Council

Kamya Sanjay, Staff Writer

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The board meeting became standing-room only as students, parents, and alumni gathered to show their support for the Honor Council.

Photo courtesy of Andy Creery
The board meeting became standing-room only as students, parents, and alumni gathered to show their support for the Honor Council.

The Regional School Board meeting on March 17 became standing-room only as students, alumni, and parents gathered to speak passionately about the need for a student-run Honor Council. The board heard an assortment of opinions about the curtailment of Maggie Walker’s long-standing Honor Council, a topic that has been a centerpiece for discussion since a variety of social media incidents propagated questions regarding the legacy of trust upheld by the Governor’s School. Since the incident, the student body of Maggie Walker and administration have engaged in a prolonged discussion about the fulfillment of duties of the Honor Council. The Council itself has been curtailed to allow for a period of review concerning the adjudication process, accompanying legal issues, and the role of the student body in Maggie Walker’s community of honor.

[Administration] fails time and time again to communicate.”

— Anthony Holten ('16)

The first to speak at the board meeting last Thursday was Anthony Holten (’16), who had administered a survey to the student population that received overwhelming results pointing to signs that students are currently dissatisfied with the Honor Council curtailment. Holten mentioned last month’s social media posts and affirmed that “our present issue has raised pertinent important questions regarding what we can ask from the Council.” He also noted that the undefined questions of the present issue have led to “unhealthy speculation.” Holten maintains that the largest and most pertinent problem with respect to the curtailment of the Honor Council is that the administration “fails time and time again to communicate.” In his oration, he stated that he does not disapprove of the decision to review the system, deeming the scrutiny imperative, but he strongly believes that the process needs a timeline and explicit goals. “What we ask of our Honor Council, it does.” Holten stated. “What we ask of our administration, it disappoints.”

Emily Martin (’17) seemed to agree wholeheartedly. She offered another sentiment regarding the Facebook posts that sparked the conversation, commenting that “Students have begun to fear retribution for questioning what they believe to be unjust policies.” As a freshman, Martin was proud to attend a high school that placed such trust in its population, but she fears that the current situation does not display the integrity she has come to value between an administrative body and its students.

The first parent to speak was Ms. Karen Schwartzkopf, parent of a Maggie Walker alumna and a current sitting member of the council. Both of her children have served on the council for a combined total of seven years, and she asserted that the Honor Council is the backbone of MLWGS — and has been for twenty years. Ms. Schwartzkopf understands that adjournment may be a necessary step due to the legal ramifications posed by possible violations of honor code processes, including a need to verify that current Council processes conform to FERPA regulations, as discussed in the Jabberwock’s previous article. However, she brought up another matter as she explained why the Honor Council is a necessary institution. “First time offenders are the ones that will suffer from not having experience with the Honor Council.” She said.  Ms. Schwartzkopf was referring to students who only pass through a council trial once, and often for violations that Ms. Schwartzkopf believes are committed in order to excel academically. She concludes that these students receive the benefit of understanding their mistakes after the experience, then know not to repeat them. “The reinstatement of the Honor Council will show students and parents that their mental health comes first, and [nothing] is worth sacrificing honor.”

Students gathered at the meeting in a showing of solidarity.

Ms. Schwartzkopf’s alumna daughter presented after her with the intent of dispelling misconceptions about the Council, especially in the context of its curtailment. Sam Schwartzkopf (’15) affirms that there are some common misconceptions about the Honor Council and its function. The first is that the council is entirely run by students. Schwartzkopf states that the members of the council are elected to represent the will of the students and all trials are overseen by Mr. Wilkes, who has a “strong, measured presence on the Honor Council.” Second, she refuted the claim that the council searches for cases. In Schwartzkopf’s four-year tenure on the council, every single case was brought to the council by a faculty member. The third and final misconception she wished to address is the idea that the council is responsible for direct punishment of students. “Think of the Council itself as a jury,” she explained. “The jury determines the guilt or innocence of the party depending on the facts of the case. But think of the administration as the judge, because the administration ultimately decides what the punishment should be and executes that punishment.”

Several other students, parents, and alumni also spoke during this session of the meeting. Kayla Aaron (’15) and Ms. Kristi Turner, parent of a sitting member of the council, both expressed their shock at the curtailment of what they believe to be one of the most integral institutions within the school. Josh Lee (’16), Ryan Lucia (’16) and Cece D’Arville (’16) expressed their concerns about the lack of transparency during previous administrative actions and the current review process. Lucia also maintained that throughout the review process, student expression should be taken into consideration and that silencing this expression would set a very dangerous precedent for the school. Earlier, Holten had voiced the same idea, alleging that “Instead of addressing these issues directly, this administration has punished those who independently voice their concerns.” Finally, Andy Creerey (’96) expressed his perturbation at curtailment and reminisced about his student experience at Maggie Walker when, he said, the students were truly involved. Creerey currently works in the risk assessment field, and he stated that he firmly believes that the presence of risk does not warrant discontinuation of a valued student-run process.

Students have begun to fear retribution for questioning what they believe to be unjust policies.”

— Emily Martin ('17)

At this point  the public comment period in the meeting came to an end, Mr. John Axselle, the Hanover board member, assured all speakers that their voices had been heard, and the session moved into action items. Dr. Jeff McGee, Director of MLWGS, explained that the process of the Honor Council review will be conducted in order to respect the guidelines put down by FERPA, and that current administration wants to examine the system and its legality as it currently exists. The motion that was seconded and unanimously approved at the board meeting on Thursday allowed the Honor Council to be retained but not to hear cases during the period of review. It also added that the review process would include students and other stakeholders.

Following the Board’s action, Dr. McGee sent the student body an email which summarized the meeting and introduced the newest addition to the review process — a committee of stakeholders. This body shall include, according to the email, the following:

  1. Student (Chair or current member of the Honor Council)
  2. Student (SCA president or representative)
  3. Parent (PTSA representative)
  4. Parent (School Advisory Council parent representative)
  5. Teacher/Counselor (member of the Richmond Education Association or REA)
  6. Teacher/Counselor (at large)
  7. MLWGS administrative representative
  8. School Board representative
  9. Superintendent’s Steering Committee representative
  10. Alumni representative

Names of the committee members will be presented to the board at next month’s meeting.

It seems that for now indefinite curtailment of the Honor Council will continue. Students, parents, and alumni have all become stakeholders in this process of Honor Council reinstatement. However, there is one truth that remains constant for both MLWGS administration and the student body: the Honor Council is an essential part of Maggie Walker, and disbandment is certainly not in its future.

 

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