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Opinions

Volume 65 Number 1

Kate Kulture: a potential new school policy (and what you need to know about it)

by Kate McEvilly - 2014-10-09


I was alerted to a new potential school policy on my first day back from a long, restful summer break (by the way, welcome back, Chadwick).

“Extensions on homework assignments and minor assessments will typically be handled by teachers on a case-by-case basis. Extensions on major assessments (as opposed to daily homework) based on co-curricular school sanctioned commitments that can be anticipated (i.e. performing arts or athletics) will be restricted to one extension per class per year and should be requested at least 48 hours in advance of the original deadline.”

For clarification, here are the facts. According to Head of the Upper School, Mark Wiedenmann, “There is no “new” policy, and extensions are decided by individual faculty members using their best judgment.”

So, despite popular opinion, this is NOT a school-wide, administrator enforced policy, at least for now; however, this potential new policy is in discussion with the department heads and upper level administrators: “The department heads generated a policy last spring that was taken in August to the Upper School faculty for consideration, given a hypothetical case study. As it turned out, the faculty were divided regarding both the meaning of the policy as it was written and also in how the policy would be applied.”

“The bottom line is that a proposed policy was generated by the department heads last year, to some extent but not exclusively, in response to students' interest in having some clarity and consistency regarding extensions, primarily due to students in the winter musical having difficulty meeting academic deadlines.”

In some departments, teachers have already started enforcing this “policy.” To clarify again, this is not yet a policy. In accordance with the Upper School Handbook, teachers have discretion to “use their best judgement” in determining extensions. Even though it is not an official policy, I think it is important to discuss potential problems with the moral fabric of our school should this policy be enacted.

My initial reaction to this potential policy: wow, just wow. What is the purpose of a policy like this? If some people are asking for too many extensions, wouldn’t it make sense to raise the issue with those individuals rather than make a blanket rule that impacts the entire Upper School? Why do we need a rule like this if we have the Honor Code? Doesn’t the Honor Code cover situations such as improperly asking for extensions? If we can’t trust students to ask for extensions only when they really need them, what does our Honor Code stand for?

I know the arguments supporting the proposed rule on only one extension per year. It isn’t fair or respectful to expect teachers to accommodate the wishes of students when students are aware of their scheduled assessments ahead of time. Students should be more responsible and plan in advance. It’s not fair to the students who didn’t ask for an extension.

But to me, the main problem with this proposed policy is that it would unduly interfere with the teacher-student relationship. If the teacher believes the student’s request for an extension is legitimate, the teacher is put in the position of either denying a request that the teacher would otherwise approve or violating the rule. That could impinge on the moral code of the teacher. The teacher would have no discretion to make an exception to the rule. One of the most essential elements of the teacher-student relationship is trust. This new policy would impinge on that trust by taking away the individual choice of both the teacher and the student and replacing that individual decision with a blanket rule.

I expect that some faculty may like the rule because it would make life easier for them. They would not have to be the bad guy and tell a student they could not have an extension. The teacher could point to the rule and blame the rule as the reason for denying the extension.

While it may be easier for faculty to point to the rule, it would be more in line with Chadwick’s core values for the teacher to have a discussion with the student explaining the reason why the teacher felt the extension was not justified. Through an open discussion between the teacher and student, the student could present his/her reasons and the issue could be resolved between them on a case by case basis.

But it’s also worth noting that this potential policy would force teachers who never granted extensions to have to give one extension per year per class for every student. This could in turn positively affect students who had legitimate grounds for an extension but were still not granted one.

As a brief reminder, Chadwick’s honor code states: “Membership in Chadwick School’s student body requires sincere intent and effort to act with integrity. I will therefore strive to promote Chadwick’s core values of respect, responsibility, honesty, fairness and compassion and will encourage the same conduct from all members of the school community.”

I can’t help but question why Chadwick’s honor code does not already cover the extension situation. If the concern is that certain students are inappropriately asking for extensions, why wouldn’t the school talk directly to those students? If it is a big problem, shouldn’t the students be told and be given help, so they can manage their time better?

An honor code is supposed to be based on “ideals that define what constitutes honorable behavior within that community” (Courtesy of Wikipedia). Shouldn’t students, consistent with the honor code requirement to act with integrity, be allowed to follow the honor code, or in this case, is this situation so critical that a special rule must be created that tells us what to do instead of allowing us to make the honorable choice?

I submit that special rules like this one erode individual responsibility and choice in favor of a paternalistic approach that inherently assumes neither students nor teachers are capable of doing the right thing.

The New York Times further expands on the honor code definition by stating that the purpose of an Honor Code “is to generate the very situation you describe as precarious: they’re supposed to create ethical temptation.” In the case of the extension rule, the choice of making an ethical decision is taken away from all students when the rule is put in place.

“Removing someone’s agency from a decision essentially forces him or her to adopt whatever morality you’ve designed. If you’re certain that people will behave unethically if given the chance, there’s a social responsibility to take that opportunity away from them. But that’s an almost impossible thing to be certain of,” said The New York Times.

This new rule calls into question what we value as a school community. Do we value giving students and faculty the opportunity to make their own decisions in alignment with the Honor Code, or do we value principles and rules that essentially replace the Honor Code with a black and white rule that has no room for a grey area?

I asked fellow seniors to give me their honest opinions on how a strictly enforced extension policy could affect them. CIF Varsity Volleyball champion Elly Holtze states, “Normally if I have a huge test the next day, I am pretty stressed out. Having a game takes away time that I could potentially be using to study. So sometimes during games, if I feel unprepared for a test, I am stressed, and this negatively affects the way I play. Extensions would personally help me.”

California Educational Theater Organization participant and dancer Taylor Dillon outlined an average rehearsal day: “This coming Thursday, I will leave for school before 7AM and not get home until 9:30 PM because of rehearsal. I don’t know how I am expected to complete my homework and get adequate sleep to be prepared for the two tests I have the next day. This isn't even a tech week for a show. If I use my one extension now, I don't know how I'll manage for the 2 weeks of tech later in the year.”

Varsity Basketball Captain Ryan Apfel insightfully shared about his experience as an athlete: “Away games are usually terrible. Teachers usually expect you to plan ahead and to be on top of it. This is reasonable most of the time, but one of the things about away games (especially to schools that are far away like Poly) is they drain so much energy from you. Once I get home, I fall asleep immediately, and there's no chance to even briefly review the material. So I think an extension for athletes is definitely fair and would help promote a more honest community. The alternative to an extension is kids lying and saying they're sick, and this can lead to a host of other problems. If I know that I have the opportunity for extensions, I'm more likely to stay rested and this could help me in class and help me stay healthy by avoiding injuries and getting rest.”

One could say that athletes and theater students are taking on too much. One could say that it is his or her choice to participate in these out of school activities and that teachers should not have to be flexible with students who bring this stress and lack of sleep upon themselves. One could also say that Chadwick is supposed to be a community where a student can be an athlete and an artist. One could say that Chadwick is supposed to be a place where teachers and students communicate their needs and respect each other enough to ask for, accept, or deny extensions appropriately. Putting a blanket rule on extensions erodes the trust that teachers and students have built together and erodes the message of promoting learning and exploration outside of a traditional classroom setting by making it difficult for students to pursue passions outside of 5 or 6 classes.

An honor code has also been defined as “a system in which people are trusted to follow rules and to act in an honest way” (Merriam Webster Dictionary). A new extension school policy inherently does not trust our students to act in an honest way. If Chadwick no longer trusts the student body to abide by the Honor Code, why have one? And if the school feels that students can’t be trusted to appropriately ask for extensions, I think we have a big problem.


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