Paly should remove Restorative Justice policy

Palo Alto High School’s cheating culture has been a source of controversy for students and faculty alike, leading administrators to create new, more lenient consequences for cheaters in an ineffective attempt to curb academic dishonesty.

Implemented in 2014, Paly’s Restorative Justice program is a process aimed at the reformation of students who violate the school’s Academic Honesty policy as well as restoration of the effects of the violation.

It is designed to gently teach cheaters not to cheat again, and therein lies the problem: in a stressful situation in which cheating is an option, a student is not going to be dissuaded by the threat of the Restorative path’s consequent “discussion” against academic dishonesty. To better curtail Paly’s issues with cheating, the administration should remove the option for Restorative Justice and instead stiffen the consequences of the traditional pathway for cheaters.

Restorative Justice is seen by many students as a way to sidestep the harsher consequences for cheating of the traditional system.

“From what we were told about it [Restorative Justice], it seems like students could just take advantage of it and use it as a get out of jail free card if they get caught doing something against school policy,” junior Aidan Maese-Czeropski said.

The traditional consequences for cheating can range from Saturday School to ineligibility for scholarships, in addition to the immediate recording of the offense into the cheater’s discipline file. In some serious cases of cheating, the cheater’s college recommendations must mention the person’s  violation of the academic honesty policy.

In contrast, Restorative Justice is a much less rigid policy. A panel composed of a school administrator, a peer, a representative of the cheater and an adult related to the cheater meet with the student in question to review the incident in question.

The cheater is given a chance to  the harm that he or she has done as well as an opportunity to propose his or her own consequences for the incident.

“We might note the cheating under Academic Honesty [with the Restorative Justics policy],” economics teacher Eric Bloom said, referring to whether or not the incident would be recorded on a cheater’s permanent record.

In the Traditional path, academic dishonesty is automatically recorded.

“People could see it as an easy way out so they don’t have to face major consequences for cheating,” junior Isabel Nichoson said.

Senior Will Dougall noted that Restorative Justice’s less severe consequences could potentially lessen the blame that the cheaters place on themselves.

“Restorative Justice has this negative psychology for cheaters,” Dougall said.  “The end result of Restorative Justice is that students feel better about themselves after they cheat.”

Cheating is a serious infraction, and therefore should trigger much more serious consequences. A pep talk with a few staff members and a restorative activity for the harm caused by academic dishonesty will not suddenly instill in a cheater newfound integrity.  Additionally, it is not a serious enough deterrent for cheating, as students do not consider it a consequence to be taken much seriously.

“While Restorative Justice could work in theory, in practice it seems like it’s too permissive of cheating,” Maese-Czeropski said.

Finals week, a prime time for students to cheat, is less than two months away. If the administration truly wants to eliminate the cheating culture at Paly, it needs to remove the option for Restorative Justice and offer only the more severe consequences of the Traditional Pathway.  Removing the opportunity for cheaters both established and potential to circumvent the severe punishments they deserve, then replacing said  with harsher consequences for violations of the Academic Honesty policy will instill into students the fact that cheating will not be tolerated.