Catlin Gabel’s Disciplinary System’s Need for Better Communication

by Jubilee Lopez ’15, Sophie Peters ’16, and Lauren Fogelstrom ’15

(Graphic: Maya Rait '14 and Lauren Fogelstrom '15)

(Graphic: Maya Rait ’14 and Lauren Fogelstrom ’15)

Every year there are multiple incidents in the Upper School that result in students meeting with administration and eventually going before the Judicial Council (JC). Events that occur on campus usually have clear consequences, but those that happen outside of school have a more complex process of discipline. Members of the community have raised questions concerning the schools role in student’s lives outside the classroom.

As stated in the Catlin Gabel Code of Conduct, our school’s disciplinary system “seeks to promote the ethical growth of the individual student in the context of a safe, tolerant, and mutually supportive community.” CatlinSpeak spoke with the Upper School Dean of Students Aline Garcia-Rubio, and Tony Stocks, the head of the JC, to gain a deeper understanding of what this general phrase entails.

According to Stocks, after a student violates the Code of Conduct, “[the] student and his or her advisor meets with the Upper School Head and/or Dean of Students, and through that conversation, a clear account of the incident emerges. The administration then uses that information to determine consequences or sends it to the JC for its recommendation.”

The JC is made up of two freshmen, two sophomores, three juniors, and five seniors, along with three faculty members whom the Head of Upper School appoints. When a student violates a school rule, they are required to present their version of events to the JC. After the meeting, JC members deliberate and suggest a disciplinary plan for the student, which then is presented to the Upper School Head.

In order to gain a “clear account” of the incident, the JC is given as much information as possible. Stocks explained, “The evidence gathering procedure used to help determine the consequences for a student who violates the school’s community standards is the same regardless of where that violation occurs.”

Although striving for the truth is vital in these circumstances, longtime Catlin Gabel parent Julie McMurchie voiced her concerns about situations that can be alienating. She feels that, “there have been times when Catlin [Gabel] has worked very hard to get students to report rule breaking behavior by other students.”

However, she knows why it may be necessary: “The teachers and staff are put in a terrible position at Catlin when they know rules have been broken … Catlin does not tolerate rule breaking, and has a responsibility to keep their students safe.”

Stocks spoke to situations when students should be allotted privacy, commenting, “because the school has a compelling interest in helping students maintain healthy physical, social and academic lives, a student’s ‘outside life’ should remain private as long as it does not transgress the school community’s insistence on self-respect, respect for others, and respect for the campus environment.”

“Community is community,” Garcia-Rubio remarked, “the school is your life.”

On the other hand, an anonymous parent of a student who went before the JC explained, “I believe that if a student’s behavior on campus or during school sponsored events is disruptive, illegal or dangerous the school has every right to intervene and there should be clear consequences,” and continued, “I do believe, however, that anytime the school discovers behavior they are concerned about, the parents should be notified first.”

Alternatively, Stocks explained, “when a student’s behavior outside school endangers their physical or mental well being, or the well being of their peers, the school has a responsibility to confront the student regarding that behavior, and to aid the student in altering said behavior.”

However, what is the difference between “[aiding] the student in altering said behavior” and punishment?

One parent, who chose to remain anonymous, would rather discipline their child inside the family than have the school handle it. They remarked, “our student is being supported and change has occurred through actions taken by our family.  This could have been achieved more positively by simple communication with parents and school counselors.”

If the wrongdoing did not occur on school grounds or at a school sponsored event, is it the school’s place to punish the student? When is the line crossed?

Upper School student Simon McMurchie ’15 thinks that, “because we’re still kids even at this stage of life, and because our parents have enrolled us in this school to form us as thinkers and as people, [discipline] has to extend beyond the school because it’s about how we treat ourselves, how we treat our community, and how that will extend beyond Catlin [Gabel].”

One anonymous student agreed, “Catlin [Gabel]’s goal is to produce upstanding members of society and there are specific standards that students agree on to attend this school. If they are breaking those standards and they are not achieving Catlin [Gabel]’s goals, then the school has every right to intervene.”

But several students have contrasting views. Another anonymous student commented that, “although [the] administration has a desire to protect Catlin [Gabel]’s image, they cannot regulate what students choose to do outside of school. Once a school dance or trip is over Catlin [Gabel]’s control should be as well.”

While speaking about an off-campus incident, a mother of a child who went before the JC anonymously told CatlinSpeak, “in light of the fact that this particular circumstance occurred off campus and not on a school trip it seemed even more inappropriate that we were not merely informed and allowed to handle the behavior within our family.”

Garcia-Rubio had a different opinion: “What you do outside of school with your school friends is linked to the school … [the school cares] about you just as much off campus as we do on campus. ” She added to clarify, “we hold [the students] accountable for what they do off campus because drugs and alcohol affect your learning.”

Another issue was encountered through a lack of clarity on the boundaries. One student who attended JC and has been through the process said that, “I was told that anything that happened in my life the school could punish me for because I go to the school and I have family members that go to the school.”

In order to solve this problem, we suggest that at the start of every year Catlin Gabel parents along with the students receive a clear Code of Conduct that not only describes the rules, but also what disciplinary actions will be taken if any of such boundaries are crossed. This would allow for clearer communication between the administration, parents and students.

Also, currently, there is no forum for feedback on the process which, if added, would allow for the administration as well as the JC to become aware of the strengths and flaws found in the current system. This would allow all involved parties — the student, the parents as well as the school — to feel as if they are all being understood.

As there will inevitably be future events that require the attention of administration and the JC, we think that the disciplinary system is an important topic that many members of the Catlin Gabel community are passionate about and it should be discussed.