Students try to make sense of the student handbook and its various explanations
by Clare Driscoll, ’19, Molly Mitchell, ’20, Josie Stewart, ’21, and Hallie Underwood, ’20.
When sophomore Quinlin Scherl decided to campaign for class treasurer, he wanted a memorable campaign slogan. So he decided to go with “Q the Jew.” But then he posted a photo on Instagram with the slogan as the caption. Not long after, he was not on the ballot for treasurer of the class of 2021 and he said he had been given a warning from the administration not to post similar content like that again. But Scherl said the intention of the joke had been misunderstood.
“Someone apparently thought it was offensive, even though I was talking about myself,” Scherl said. “I don’t think I should’ve been taken out of the race. I think [the administration] should’ve just asked me to take the post down.”
Scherl was also suspended on two separate occasions for vaping—the first time being three days and the second four days. “Compared to other people, [my punishment] was complete bullsh*t,” Scherl said.
He said he felt the consequences he faced were disproportionate compared to the disciplinary action taken against other students, whom Scherl said had committed graver disciplinary infractions.
Principal Andrew Theado said although administrators try to follow the Students’ Rights and Responsibilities Handbook disciplinary guidelines as closely as possible, they cannot ignore context when considering the appropriate response for some disciplinary infraction.
“There are some things that we are always 100 percent, but there are some things that we vary based on the student’s past experience,” Theado said. “So there may be some variation from student to student. If a student didn’t learn the first time we did something, we may change the consequence to be something more severe.”
The student handbook outlines the disciplinary actions the school will take in response violations of their guidelines.
Few incidents go unnoticed by UAHS students. From videos of student fights being shared through group chats to reports of drug use, students often spread rumors riddled with inaccuracies. Theado said the administration’s scope over student affairs is limited.
“I would say that [the students] know more than we do,” Theado said. “There’s stuff on social media that you may see and be like, ‘Why hasn’t administration done anything about this?’ It’s probably because we have no clue.”
But as rumors spread, students and parents often wonder why the administration doesn’t clarify any falsehoods. Often, Theado said, FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, prevents teachers and administrators from disclosing students’ records, meaning the administrators cannot
release specific information about certain student actions.
“As a public institution and a public school, I can’t just go out and say, ‘Hey, this is what happened
and here’s what the student did,’ even though that would make our lives a lot easier. We can’t because of the federal law,” Theado said. “It’s a good thing that we’re not sharing those things about students, but it makes the rumor mill go a thousand different directions.”
Theado said he’ll only address an incident when it starts affecting a large number of people.
“Sometimes things start to affect all students and the community, and in those circumstances, I send out information,” Theado said.
Administrators do not inform teachers why a suspended student will miss class. Assistant principal Jennifer Mox said students fear teachers will think differently of them if teachers know why a student has been disciplined.
“I think it’s important to talk to [students] about the fact that they are under no obligation to tell teachers about why they are out,” Mox said. “Students are already upset anyway, so you don’t want them to worry about having to go back to class and having the teacher think poorly of them.”
Mox also said the meeting between student and counselor in which students can prepare for returning to school is an important step in the discipline process.
“When a student is out for their suspension, we have a re-admit meeting,” Mox said. “That’s just kind of a good reset. They’ll talk about making sure they were able to access all of their assignments on Schoology and if they need help setting up times to make up tests. It’s a way to start off on that first day back on a good foot.”
Theado said he wants students to know that no matter what mistakes they make, the administrators still think of them as great people.
“Typically, my assistants do a very good job of making sure the students know that we don’t think poorly of you,” Theado said. “Like when you come back from suspension, we’re [still] going to fist bump you and say ‘Hi’ in the hallways.”
“I know I did some stupid things but I’m hoping when a college sees my grades and activities, they won’t care about the two suspensions,” Scherl said.
The handbook does not specify where suspensions and expulsions of students are recorded, and although students may have a permanent record, records of disciplinary infractions and suspensions are not
recorded or sent to prospective colleges.
“Currently, the Common App asks something along the lines of ‘Have you ever been suspended from school?’ [Students] have the opportunity to answer that and respond yes or no. [The administrators are]
not checking your Common Apps, and it’s not on your transcripts,” Theado said.
The administration may not send information about suspensions to schools, but students’ records can be sent if requested.
“The military academies are the only ones that ask about academic performance,” Theado said. “Otherwise, we don’t send any disciplinary information.”
ACCORDING TO ADMINISTRATION
The main thing that assistant principal Matthew Jordan said he wants students to know is that their main goal is to provide a safe and happy learning environment.
“It’s important that everyone knows that nobody is out to get anyone. That’s not the idea. if we can go through every day with everybody doing what they should and just getting along than that’s what I want and that’s typically how it is,” Jordan said.
While junior Emma Mitchell appreciates the guidelines listed to help victims of bullying, she said the administration’s need to play everything by the book kept her from getting the help she needed when she was the victim of bullying last year.
“Coming to school every day was and still is really difficult for me. It was partly because of the things that people were saying to me in the hallways, but also because I felt really strongly that I wasn’t supported by the people at our school who are supposed to support the students,” Mitchell said.
She said the handbook’s definition of harassment was not comprehensive enough. But for Mitchell, whose case didn’t fit the handbook, she said it can feel like the administration is trying to make the day easy for them, not the student.
“It’s like you know that more should be done, but you also kind of understand that there’s only so much they can do or that they’re willing to do, which is unfortunate,” Mitchell said.
“There are some things that we are always consistent on, but there are some things that we vary based on the student’s past.”