In keeping with the school’s progressive tradition, Catlin Gabel’s disciplinary system seeks to promote the ethical growth of the individual student in the context of a safe, tolerant, and mutually supportive community. That community operates on trust and is not defined by a large number of rules: community members are instead enjoined to treat themselves, others, and the campus environment with respect and care. When the head of the Upper School determines that a serious violation of these standards has occurred, a student is generally asked to meet with a panel of the school’s judicial council, which consists of three faculty members appointed by the Upper School head and six students elected by the members of their class. Parents of the student in question are informed that a violation of community standards has occurred and that their student will be required to appear before the judicial council at this point.
During interviews with the administration, a student’s academic advisor is present, and students appearing before the council are encouraged to ask their advisor or another adult member of the community to appear with them for support and counsel. The advisor’s presence generally encourages a student to be more honest and forthcoming from the start of the process, and usually helps a student come to terms with his or her situation much more effectively.
At the judicial council hearing, the student is asked to recount the incident to the panel and to reflect on her or his motives and conduct. The panel then attempts to reach consensus on an individualized set of recommendations designed to help the student learn from the experience and reintegrate into the community. These recommendations are sent to the Upper School head, who is responsible for enforcing them.
While the judicial council and the administration attempt to fit the consequences assigned to the particular circumstances of the violation, certain violations are likely to result in suspension (consumption of drugs or alcohol at a school function) or expulsion (serious cases of bullying; multiple violations of the school’s drug and alcohol policy; selling drugs). The guidelines of the common application that most students use in applying to college requires them to report violations of the school’s policies in their applications.
The judicious use of suspensions is an effective practice for helping students and the school community to learn from and heal after a serious infraction. Typically the goal is either the separation of the student from the community for a period of time, or to provide him or her with an abrupt change in their daily lives and a time for serious reflection on how they want to shape their teenage years—or a combination of both. The length and type of suspension, as well as conditions associated with the suspension, are tailored to the circumstances of the individual student so as to maximize the potential for learning and growth.
The school provides a structured re-entry program for students who have been suspended, working to establish processes that encourage students to feel that they are being welcomed back into the community as full participants and not on some sort of probationary status.
Following a disciplinary action, the school is prepared to advocate for the student to colleges to which he or she applies, articulating how the infraction fits into the larger context of the student’s experience at the school, including the school’s best understanding of the student’s intellectual, social and interpersonal growth during his or her time at Catlin Gabel.
In the case of significant violations of the school’s ethical standards, the head of the Upper School communicates the nature of those violations to the general student body, and detail the consequences assigned for those violations. The names of the guilty students are not revealed in these communications.
During the 2011-12 school year, the Upper School assembled a consequences committee to review all aspects of the disciplinary system, including the procedures for investigating student misconduct, the operations of the judicial council, and the imposition of consequences. Committee members evaluated the fairness and effectiveness of current policies and compared them to procedures for dealing with student misconduct at schools similar to Catlin Gabel, at both a local and national level. It also solicited feedback on the disciplinary system from students, faculty members, and parents. The committee’s goal was to recommend a series of best practices for all aspects of the school’s disciplinary system.
In its final report, the committee concluded that the disciplinary practices of the school are fundamentally sound, and enjoy widespread support from members of the school community. But it recommended a greater effort to communicate the school’s disciplinary philosophy and practices more clearly.