Honor code is OK'd

SSHS committee unanimously approves proposal

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An honor code for Steamboat Springs High School will be in place for the 2003-04 school year after the proposal was approved Wednesday by the school's Nuts and Bolts Committee.

Department representatives, two parents and a student voted for the code, which seeks to empower students and build an environment of academic integrity at the school.

Two student representatives and the counseling department representative were not present for the decision. A single 'no' vote would have killed the proposal.

"This has been a difficult decision and a very impactful one for our school for a long, long time," assistant principal Mike Knezevich said. "I just expect the best, and I think that will happen."

A Nuts and Bolts subcommittee has worked on the honor code proposal for months, presenting it to students, parents, faculty and community members. The code has been revised throughout the process, and some adjustments will continue to be made until its fall implementation. An honor code provision will allow monthly code review and revision throughout its first year, followed by annual evaluation thereafter.

Many Steamboat Springs High School teachers, students and parents acknowledge that cheating is an issue at the school. In a recent SteamboatCARES survey, more than 70 percent of the school's students admitted to instances of cheating. The percentage is in line with national surveys, many of which indicate between 70 percent and 90 percent of high school students cheat.

"Cheating is an issue," student Elle Mann said. "In the long term, I think we definitely need (an honor code)."

Mann said many students are against the honor code, but often only because they don't understand it.

"I don't think they're informed," she said. "If you sit down and talk to them about it and let them know how it empowers them, I think they agree with it."

Under the school's current system, cheaters usually are caught or accused by faculty members. Students often don't have the opportunity to defend themselves and are subject to what the teacher believes he or she witnessed.

The honor code, on the other hand, transfers authority from the teachers to the students by creating an "honor council" made up of 16 students -- four from each grade.

Faculty members will be asked to nominate up to three students who demonstrate the integrity needed to be an honor council member. Students can self-nominate but can't nominate other students. The two students from each grade level with the most nominations will be appointed to the council, provided those students want to serve on it. Two of the remaining top-20 nominees from each grade will be appointed to the council by a student-body election.

The nominee and election process will begin immediately in order to establish the council before the end of the school year. An identical process will occur in the eighth grade at Steamboat Springs Middle School to establish next year's freshmen honor council members.

Under the provisions of the honor code, students or teachers will report suspected cases of cheating, plagiarism or lying to the honor council. Students will not be required to report instances of cheating, plagiarism or lying. An investigative team of honor council members will analyze the merits of each report before deciding whether it warrants a violation hearing.

A quorum of 12 honor council members is required for a hearing, during which charges are read, evidence provided and defense allowed. Suspected violators will plead guilty or not guilty.

A two-thirds honor council vote is required before an accused honor code violator can be found guilty. This process, code supporters say, is fairer than being subjected to the vote of a single person, such as an accusing teacher.

The honor code does not change school consequences for cheating, plagiarism and lying.

The honor code seeks to guarantee confidentiality among all parties involved in a violation hearing, including the accused student and the reporting individual. Any breach of confidentiality -- such as discussion of a particular hearing or case by an honor council member -- will be treated as a violation of the honor code.

Still, concerns remain over how effectively confidentiality can be maintained. Numerous departmental representatives expressed those concerns at Wednesday's meeting. In the end, belief in the concept won.

"The system won't and can't be perfect," teacher Dexter Mahaffey said. "But I think we can strive for it."

Over time, the honor code will evolve and develop a unique atmosphere of academic integrity and empowered students, code supporters say.

Concerns also were expressed about student bias. In an effort to address that concern, the final honor code will include a provision allowing accused code violators to request dismissal of an honor council member he or she feels will be biased toward the case.

Honor council members "will be fair and unbiased during all council proceedings or he/she must excuse himself/herself from passing judgment," reads one provision of the honor code.

Also to be included in the final honor code are provisions addressing parental school work assistance and special needs students.

The honor code will not pass judgment on a parent's decision to help a child with schoolwork, Mahaffey said.

Moderate needs teacher Bill Spyker, who served as the resource department representative at Wednesday's meeting, said the primary concern among his department with the honor code proposal was the absence of language addressing special circumstances for special education students.

Depending on their individual situations, some special education students can receive schoolwork and testing assistance from teachers. It would be unfair for these students to be punished or called before the honor council if they are simply following circumstances allowed by their individual learning plans, Spyker said.

Though Spyker abstained from voting on behalf of the department, the Nuts and Bolts Committee agreed to address the concerns of the resource department before the end of the school year.

Student reaction to the proposed honor code has been mixed over the past several months. Teachers and students say some students acknowledge the need for an honor code and believe in its goals, while others oppose the concept.

Regardless, implementing the honor code will be a bumpy road, code supporters said.

"The next year will probably be very difficult and very rough," teacher Erica Mills said.


-- To reach Brent Boyer call 871-4234

or e-mail bboyer@steamboatpilot.com

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