Academic integrity

SSHS weighs honor code to make accusations, disciplinary actions more fair

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Steamboat Springs High School soon may join the growing ranks of a nationwide trend by implementing a student honor code.

A committee of high school students, teachers and parents recently completed a final draft of a school honor code that, if approved by the school's Nuts and Bolts Committee, could take effect this fall.

Steamboat Springs High School, like most -- if not all -- American secondary and post-secondary schools, has a cheating problem.

More than 70 percent of Steamboat Springs High School students admitted to cheating at one time or another, according to the latest SteamboatCARES survey. The percentage mirrors those calculated from national surveys: According to The Center for Academic Integrity, 74 percent of high school students surveyed admitted to one or more instances of serious test cheating, and 72 percent admitted to serious cheating on written assignments.

"Cheating is the student body's problem, and right now, it is a problem," sophomore Amanda Toy said. Furthermore, cheating is acceptable for many students, Toy said.

Members of the honor code committee said the code is meant to empower students, not end cheating. They add that the code process began before the SteamboatCARES survey results were known.

"This is not about trying to combat cheating. It may do that, but that's not what this is about," teacher and honor code committee member Dexter Mahaffey said. "It's about empowering students, plain and simple."

School policies regarding cheating and plagiarizing will not change under the honor code, he said. However, if the honor code is approved and put into effect, students will be able to create and establish their own culture of academic integrity, Mahaffey said.

Faculty members have the sole responsibility for identifying and reporting instances of cheating.

"Cheating doesn't impact me, it impacts (students)," Mahaffey said. "It doesn't impact the community of teachers in a tangible way."

When a teacher's word is pitted against a student's, the teacher often wins. An honor code that is controlled and regulated by students will establish an environment for a fair trial, honor code supporters said.

Principal Dave Schmid said he supports the implementation of an honor code.

"I think it's a great idea," Schmid said. "I know it's a little risky, but it's really empowering kids to say, 'these are the personal qualities we want.'"

A 16-member, all-student honor council, comprised of four students from each grade, would be given responsibility for promoting academic integrity through confidential academic violation hearings, if the honor code is approved.

Faculty and self-nominations will establish a pool of honor council candidates. Twenty students from each class, those with the most faculty nominations, attend a meeting where the duties and responsibilities of honor council members will be outlined.

Of those students still interested in serving on the council, the two students from each class with the most faculty nominations will be appointed automatically to the council. The two remaining council positions from each class will be determined through a student body election. All selected council members must make a commitment to be fair and unbiased and to uphold the honor code.

Suspected instances of cheating, lying or plagiarizing will be reported to the council through "violation reports," and hearings will be initiated.

A team of council members will investigate the purported violation and, if necessary, a violation proceeding will take place.

A quorum of 12 honor council members will be required for a proceeding. Council members who feel they are personally unable to put aside their bias toward the suspected violator must dismiss themselves from the proceeding.

A suspected violator will be presumed innocent until proven guilty, according to the proposal. Hearings, which will be strictly confidential and closed to the public, will follow many of the same procedures as the judicial system. Charges will be read, evidence provided and a defense allowed. Suspected violators will plead guilty or not guilty.

A two-thirds council vote will be required to find a suspect guilty. Less than a two-thirds majority will result in acquittal.

Confidentiality among all students involved in honor proceedings will be maintained. Suspected violators will not know the identity of their accuser. Violations of confidentiality will be considered a violation of the honor code. If a suspected violator seeks retaliation against any honor council member or accuser, the matter will be turned over to school administration for disciplinary action, the proposal states.

Reaction to the proposed policy among the student body has been mixed at best, if not mostly negative, said students Toy, Elle Mann and Burt Ver Haar. They attribute the negative reaction to misinformation and rumors.

"I know some kids have a really hard time with this idea," Schmid said. "This is something new. Change isn't always easy, but the bottom line for kids is that the consequences for cheating are going to be the same. I see it as more of a due process for kids."

Students who have spoken out against an honor code have done so "mostly because they don't understand what's going on," Ver Haar said.

"Once students are informed about the code, they are more accepting of it," Mann said.

The honor code will be presented to the student body at an assembly next week, and discussion groups will allow concerns and questions to be addressed.

"We're hoping to clear up a lot of misconceptions floating around the school," Toy said.

Among those misconceptions is that students will be required to report any instances of cheating, lying or plagiarizing they witness.

Junior Ilya Grigoriev said he thought required reporting was part of the code.

"That will definitely make kids uncomfortable. If a person cheats, that's his problem," he said.

"I still don't understand what it is," junior Chris Lodge said. "We need more information."

High school faculty members already have heard an earlier draft proposal of the honor code, and faculty feedback was instrumental in draft revisions, honor code committee member and parent Cindy Toy said. A special faculty meeting addressing the final draft of the honor code May 7 will provide another opportunity for feedback.

Two public forums also will give community members and parents an opportunity to hear the honor code proposal and provide feedback. The first will be held at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in Dexter Mahaffey's classroom. The second is scheduled for 7 p.m. May 13 in the high school commons area.

The Nuts and Bolts Committee probably will decide the fate of the honor code proposal at its May 21 meeting, Cindy Toy said. The honor code committee will use feedback generated from student, faculty and community forums to update the proposal where necessary before the May 21 meeting, she said.

-- To reach Brent Boyer call 871-4234

or e-mail bboyer@steamboatpilot.com

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