Let’s be honest. This year hasn’t been the best for the school’s handbook. From issues of academic honesty to senior requirements – and now to appropriate technology usage – problems have been handled in a non-cohesive way due to a lack of clear protocol.
Currently, the Student Handbook’s guidelines are vague and allow for the administration to deal with problems case by case. Some have argued that this results in bias, and that the handbook should be changed to a more regimented list of offenses and their respective punishments.
However, the definition of bullying, “unwanted aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance,” can be taken from many angles. Consequently, it would be futile to try to make the handbook any more specific than it already is and expect it to solve problems on its own.
What needs to be set in stone aren’t the rules or penalties, but the protocol for identifying whether or not an accusation has merit. The handbook is like the Constitution. The Constitution has a good set of rules, but it can’t speak for itself. It needs to be interpreted by a court and a judge. Each offense is ultimately dealt with on a case-by-case basis, but goes through the same procedure to reach the verdict.
In the same way, Country Day should establish a universal protocol for dealing with accusations. We suggest that when an accusation is brought to the dean of student life or the head of high school, the administrator should meet with the student accused before proceeding with investigative measures.
For instance, if a student is accused of bullying on Twitter, the administrator should talk with the student first. If the student acknowledges wrongdoing, he or she will be dealt with accordingly. If the student denies the offense, or has a different interpretation, the administrator should at that point take action and go through the accused’s Twitter account. And, if the dean finds tweets that support the accusation, the student should face appropriate punishment.
This clear protocol can help the school avoid the confusion students face now when accused of an offense. By dealing with cases the same way (even if the school operates on a case-by-case system), the administration’s approach to solving problems will be uniform for all cases, regardless of severity.
We acknowledge the difficulty of dealing with social media, but if it is impossible to lay down the specific rules, the school should at least have standard protocol to approach all offenses.
As social media changes, the handbook starts to lack more and more procedural conduct. If we establish a clear-cut protocol now, then dealing with social media as it progresses will be easier.
The protocol may not make the punishment decisions easier for administrators, but at least it promises fairness for all students because everyone’s cases will be dealt with in the same way.