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On this episode of law and order

Catherine Orders '23 and Greta Lawler '23

Dec 9, 2022

To learn more about the Conduct Review Committee (CRC), the Mercersburg  News sat down with the committee’s chair, Justine O’Connell, director of global initiatives and Spanish teacher.

Mercersburg News: What does a typical CRC look like? What are the proceedings and who is involved?

Justine O’Connell: The student in question sits down with Ms. Wrzesinsky and Mr. Weibley to talk about what happened and be informed that they will be going in front of the CRC. Ms. Wrzesinsky tells me what happened, and I choose three students and three adults from our committee to hear the case. The student can bring their adviser and an extra person for support, usually a captain, prefect, or close friend. 

To open proceedings, I ask the student: Do you understand that the CRC can recommend warning, final warning, and required withdrawal, and do you understand what those mean? Then, Ms. Wrzesinsky reads the narrative, which is what happened and why the student is at the CRC. She'll also read behavior points to see if there are patterns in the student’s behavior. Next, members of the committee ask questions: talk to me about what was going through your head at that moment. What has been the hardest part about this for you? Do you feel there are any relationships that have been damaged because of this incident? If you could go back, what would you do differently? These questions help the student process what happened and also allow us to see that sometimes students have committed infractions because there was a lot going on in their lives. 

We are not meant to be a committee that punishes a student. We fully believe the purpose of the committee is to help a student understand their mistake and move on from it. There’s going to be a consequence, sure, but we don’t want them to feel that one mistake will define them as a human being. They can move on from it, learn from it, and grow from it. 

After the questions, the adviser and support person can say something on behalf of the student. The student is the last person to talk. 

Finally, the committee discusses what we heard and makes an appropriate recommendation. If we recommend warning, it is because we think the infraction affected only the student. If we recommend final warning, it’s because a student did something that also affected, in a negative way, other members of our community, for example, harassment. Required withdrawal is a really serious recommendation that is not often put forth. 

MN: What are the different types of CRCs and how are they determined for each case? 

JO: Cases that are egregious in nature, like sexual harassment, are dealt with by Mr. McDowell, Ms. Wrzesinsky, the student, and the adviser. A CRC may not be held in front of students if an infraction happens in the last week before the end of a term. In that case, there would be an administrative CRC conducted by Ms. Wrzesinsky, Ms. Craig, Dr. Maurer, Mr. McDowell, and me. In regular cases, a student chooses whether or not they want their case to be heard in front of a full committee or just adults. 

MN: How are student and faculty representatives chosen for each case? Can representatives be disqualified from hearing a case?

JO: My role as the chair is to choose three faculty members and two students to hear each case. Our student chair participates in every case. I try to give everyone an even number of cases and make sure that someone doesn't always see the same type of case. I also try to balance the students by grade level. Faculty and students can recuse themselves from a case. For example, if someone cheats in my Spanish class, I would recuse myself because I was the one that turned them in. Sometimes people automatically abdicate because they feel too close to the person to be able to deliberate without bias. 

MN: How does the whole committee stay up-to-date and consistent with recent cases and consequences?

JO: On weeks when we don't have a case, we still meet, usually to debrief a case from the week before, allowing members who weren’t there to ask questions about the case and its outcomes. All members of the committee, both students and faculty, are held to strict confidentiality. The purpose of confidentiality is to maintain the dignity of the students, knowing that this is not part of the highlight reel of their time at Mercersburg. We also hold mock CRCs to train new members.  We’re hoping to meet with each grade this year to talk about the differences between warning and final warning and do a mock case so that more students understand what happens. 

MN: What are the benefits of having a discussion-based disciplinary system over a more objective set of consequences?

JO: I believe it's important that students know they can make mistakes. We've all made mistakes in our lives and sometimes you are in a situation where you break a big rule and you need to own up to it and process it. Students need to know that there are consequences that come with breaking rules, but it doesn't define who you are as a person or make or break you and the rest of your life. 

MN: Is there anything you would like to see changed or improved about the CRC process?

JO: We’ve had a record number of cases this term and I've been thinking about what in our community is causing more students to be breaking major school rules. I don’t have an answer to that. I think what could make the CRC process better is figuring out if it’s our systems in our institution or if there’s something deeper going on. I think that getting to a place with fewer cases starts with our community and our culture. As Mr. McDowell was talking about at our school meeting, the culture of our community is what we are willing to tolerate. I think that there is some conversation and reflection that we need to do as a whole community.

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