Assistant principal Patricia Hurley answers questions about the honor code. The following transcript is from a February 14, 2002 interview.
SCO:Why did you feel the honor code was necessary?
Hurley: The Instructional Council had been talking about an honor code for awhile. We had a lengthy discussion about it over the summer. There have been increasing concerns about students submitting work that is not their own. I think this is because of increasing access to technology and what has been happening with the internet. The Internet has raised a whole lot of issues in terms of helping students know how to use the information and cite it appropriately. On one end are students who legitimately make mistakes to the other end where students belatedly submit papers where they have forgotten to write out ‘Written For You by Whatever.' There have always been incidents, I don't think they've been excessive, of students who have violated testing procedures or students who have submitted work that is not their own. We just felt that we wanted to address it directly.
SCO:Does the implementation of the honor code represent a change in school policy?
Hurley: The only change in the honor code is the honor council. Everything else in the honor code is already in the discipline policy written in the plan book. The honor council really is a formalized appeal process for students, a change I think is advantageous to the students.
SCO: Is the punishment for violating the honor code different from violating cheating rules of the school?
Hurley: No. We've taken the consequences for violation of testing procedures or presenting of work and put that into the honor code. There's a range of consequences: it's one thing to hand in someone else's homework and another to hand in someone else's term paper. It's a ‘one shoe doesn't fit all sizes' kind of thing.
SCO: What are the benefits to students of signing and complying with the honor code other than avoiding punishment?
Hurley: I'm just going to sort of address some of the issues brought up by the honor code. I don't think any of us anticipated this response. I know none of us anticipated this kind of response. I think a number of us would have changed the wording underneath where the students sign. The only word I am interested in is ‘understand'. We have the sign off at the beginning of the year about the major behavior violations and what the possible consequences are. The honor code was an educational process. We are formalizing what is already in place. We're adding the honor council and we want to make sure that everyone understands it. I think we are a community and if I have information about someone doing something they're not supposed to do, whether it be bringing a weapon to school or doing a gross violation of academic honesty, I think people have a responsibility to come forward. I also know the reality of that and whether you're a student or an adult it's extremely difficult. I've had conversations with kids about, ‘well, I'm not going to come forward,' and I understand that and I'm not expecting that but that's the ideal. But if we are investigating what looks like a violation and I'm asking you for information, I expect for you to be honest with me about it and that I'm not sure that distinction has been made. I'm not so sure that is so clear in the wording. I think for the most part the students and adults work together and avoid those power struggles so often present in adolescent/ adult relationships. I think the Honor Code is something that fueled that fire and the students got their backs up even though that wasn't the intent.
SCO: Do you feel that the honor code demonstrates mutual trust between students and teachers?
Hurley: I think most teachers trust students. Teachers accept term papers and the first thing they do isn't run to the internet to do searches. Teachers want to trust that students are submitting their own work but sometimes students don't and if I'm a teacher and I have two scantrons from a final exam that are exactly alike and these students sat next to one another, then the teacher will suspect them. Does that demonstrate a lack of trust? I don't think it does. I think the teacher has a responsibility to question that. We didn't move to this because we don't trust students. We wanted a vehicle in place when violations do happen.
SCO:What will happen to students who do not sign the honor code?
Hurley: We've done a bunch of things. I've met with a couple kids who didn't and I talked to them and answered their questions and they ended up signing it. We've made phone calls home. I think this became bigger than it needed to be. The honor code really was about the kids understanding the document. Kids have been told to cross out the other words and that is okey too.
SCO: Does their rebellion make any difference?
Hurley: The honor code is still in effect whether they sign it or not. Somebody's not exempt from following it because they refuse to sign it.
SCO: Do you think that student signatures are an indication of student agreement with the policy?
Hurley: No. Clearly there are students who think it's okey to submit work that is not their own. And they probably signed it. I think that most students submit their own work and hope that its going to be good and earn good grades. I think most students in this building have a lot of integrity about that and want to show their teachers what they can do. So again I think we're talking about a very small number of offenders. It's not like we're running rampant dealing with this kind of thing all the time. We're not.
SCO: There have been stories about teachers who did not allow students to leave their classroom until the students have signed the document. Do you think there are any moral issues with forcing students to sign something that they might not agree with?
Hurley: I have a problem with it being handled that way. I have a problem with them saying they can not leave the room. With the wording I can understand why students wouldn't want to sign it. I wouldn't understand why someone wouldn't sign it if all they had to say was that they read it and understood it. I didn't read the 'support and agree with' part very carefully so when I saw that I understood what the students were upset about.
SCO: Was there a reason for distributing the honor code in the middle of the year?
Hurley: It was ready. We started working on it last summer. We hoped it would be ready for the beginning of the year and we had it ready in December. It seemed natural to release it at the beginning of the semester.
SCO: As opposed to next year?
Hurley: We thought, why wait? It's not anything different except for the honor council. Doing it second semester gives us a chance to sort of iron out some of the kinks and gives us a chance to have it better for next year. But it seemed silly that since it was done to sit on it second semester.
SCO: Are you pleased with the amount of student and teacher controversy the code has created?
Hurley: I certainly wouldn't say I'm pleased. No, I don't love controversy. I think that the good that will come out of it is there will be dialogue between the students and the adults in the building and I'm confident that it will be a better document because of input that we get from the students. But, do I like having students upset about this or having teachers threatening kids that they're not going to let them out of the building or negative articles in the journal? I don't welcome that!
SCO: Why was there so little input from students and staff in writing the honor code considering that they are the ones most directly affected?
Hurley: I don't feel there was little input from staff. We started with the honor code that the Magnet uses and that CAP uses and Mrs. McGinn did extensive research so it's not like we started from ground zero. And again, I think we just felt that 99% of it is in the handbook so why would we need to convene a group of all the stakeholders, I guess that's the term that is in vogue, to work on something when 99% of it is already in place? And why would kids object to an honor council when it would appear to be to their advantage to have another place to go to present their case in any extenuating circumstances that might take exist. I think anybody who has been in the building long enough knows that typically that isn't how we do things around here: we're out trying to get student input.
SCO: Has there been any discussion among teachers to change the honor code?
Hurley: When Ms. McGinn and Ms. Wanner presented the honor code to the faculty on the half day what was put up was, 'If you have input or suggestions, send it to them because it is a dynamic document.' So, my understanding is that Ms. McGinn is working with students who are soliciting student input so I think it is very possible that changes will be made. Whether these will be major or minor chances remains to be seen.
All comments relating to the Honor Code have been assembled here.
Annie Peirce. Annie Peirce is a senior in the Communications Arts Program and the public relations manager for Silver Chips. She is also an opinions editor for Silver Chips Online. She was born on October 25, 1984, in a hospital somewhere in Prince George's County; but doesn't … More »