DCC: Student Leadership or Kangaroo Court?

The Disciplinary Consultation Committee (DCC) was first advertised as a unique way for students to gain leadership in the disciplinary process. Students do have a role; they learn the details of cases and deliberate possible actions to take. But students who are not on DCC often feel like they have limited insight into the workings of disciplinary procedures, and the students on DCC often report feeling overpowered by faculty members.

The DCC’s student representatives are elected by students and given some say in recommending discipline based on confidential information about their peers.

The DCC was announced to students last winter and has since gone through two cycles of a pilot program. During each pilot round, there have been twelve students and six teachers involved. Four students come from each of the tenth, eleventh and twelfth grades. The six teachers are the four grade deans and the two faculty co-chairs, history teacher Cliff Coates and science teacher Greg Dallinger. 

Assistant Principal for School Life Quinn Killy organizes many of the logistics for the DCC, including dates for elections, feedback from students and training for the committee’s representatives. 

“GDS is such a student-driven school,” Killy said. “Why don’t we have students involved in discipline? And so we developed this thing and tried to launch it.”

Ana-Sophia Mostashari, a senior who has served on the DCC during the pilot program’s first two rounds, joined because it was “exciting for me to be in the pilot program and help shape it.” However, Mostashari is frustrated with how the DCC is functioning. “It was marketed as a way to get kids more involved in the disciplinary process,” she said. “But it feels like [teachers] have a little bit more weight in the decisions than the kids at times.”

Mostashari pointed to one case in which many students felt a punishment should have been different from what teachers thought. Mostashari said the teachers explained how punishments for similar cases were treated in the past, and most of the students changed their minds. But as Mostashari sees it, “the whole point of the DCC was to get new opinions and do the disciplinary process in a new way,” so following precedent from before the DCC’s existence does not make much sense to her.

The DCC pilot charter threatens disciplinary action if specific details about cases are shared, so The Augur Bit cannot share more specific information about the case.

“I think often it’s easy for students to be persuaded by their teachers just by nature of power dynamics,” Mostashari said. “I don’t think it is necessarily an intentional thing that the teachers feel like they have more power, but that’s what it ends up being. They frame the discussion, which is a powerful way to influence thought. So, for example, a teacher might say, ‘I’m going to put this punishment on the table and then we can adjust from there.’ But even just doing that is a way to influence people’s opinions.”

Meanwhile, a sophomore who appeared before the DCC, Julian Galkin, thinks the current system is “not fair” and suggests getting rid of the DCC entirely is a good idea. In the beginning of his case, he was unexpectedly removed from a math class—during a period when he was supposed to have a test—and taken to an interview with his grade dean, Julie Stein. He says he was unaware that the interview with Stein would be part of his official statement. In addition, he was only notified of his “trial” date the night before the trial, when, according to Killy, the DCC likes to give students more advanced notice. 

“I had to deal with the constant weight of this; I would go home and just have to sit on my bed for like an hour and just calm down,” Galkin said. “Because I was so nervous and stressed about—I don’t know—Quinn Killy looking at me in the hallway.”

He felt the punishment in his case did not help him grow.

“It was so obvious that, even if it wasn’t intentional, the administration just showed no compassion or care or thought of anything that they did,” Galkin said. “You know, it was just like, ‘We’re gonna go through and check the rulebook and this is the rule, so we’re just gonna go by it.’ These are actual people’s lives that you’re scaring and making more stressful and negatively impacting. And you’re supposed to be in a mission-driven school that’s supposed to honor the integrity or worth of each individual, you know, and there was no integrity or worth valued.”

According to Killy, the DCC was meant to bring students into conversations about discipline in a way that wouldn’t sacrifice confidentiality or empathy in the process.

Sophomore DCC member Caroline Antonipillai said the committee sometimes feels like a “kangaroo court,” lacks the necessary transparency for the student body to understand how the procedure works and needs improvement. But she doesn’t think teachers are given too much influence.

“Maybe they control the conversation just from a power perspective,” Antonipillai said. “But I don’t think that they’re having more of an influence on the recommended punishment than we are.”

For each case, six students, two deans and one faculty co-chair meet and make a recommendation for a punishment to send to High School Principal Katie Gibson. Gibson then decides whether to accept or reject their proposal. If she rejects the decision, she meets with the DCC and they try to reach a compromise. If a compromise is not reached, Head of School Russell Shaw makes the final decision. (See below for a full explanation of the current disciplinary process and a list of the current DCC members.)

  “I’m not sure Katie’s involvement makes that much sense because she’s not even in the room when we’re discussing it. So it’s not an equal conversation,” Antonipillai said. “We can all make a decision together, which I think would actually make the DCC more of an effective program because then we would actually at least know Katie’s thought process.”

“We’re still working out the kinks of the relationship between faculty and students and how equal that is,” junior and DCC member Ashton Brubaker said. “There have been discussions of whether we have seminars or other things to restructure how much power and veto rights or whatever the faculty have over the students, because when it was first proposed, it was made to believe that the students were going to give equal inputs in situations to the faculty.”

Brubaker thinks it is important that the DCC puts trust in the administration.

“They probably know better than I do what other cases have happened because I’m not in every single DCC case that happens. And so they probably have a better sense,” Brubaker said. “But from the description of the council, it’s supposed to be a collaborative effort between students and faculty. And if one opinion in the council or discussion gets outshined or outshines others, then it’s not as productive to see [students involved in the disciplinary process].”

Julia Hay, a senior who has served on DCC both rounds of the pilot program, thinks DCC needs time to develop precedent.

“If there’s true student input, and if it becomes an actual system, then I think punishment will change at GDS,” Hay said. “I think that might take time, but I think it could happen. But at least right now, I can understand why people are like ‘Oh, it’s just a way for the administration to switch blame to other people, as opposed to taking it on themselves.’”

Sophomore Stella Tongour also felt frustrated after being tried before the DCC.

“I think they should respect confidentiality without making it sort of this secretive little meeting where it just seems like everyone else is kind of excluded,” Tongour said. “It makes situations more dramatic, and it kind of makes everyone else involved be more scared.”

Faculty co-chair Greg Dallinger was less willing to comment on the DCC’s current functions. But he does think the DCC is following the charter, developed by Quinn Killy and other administrators over a few years, so he doesn’t “think there’s anything I would say is negative.” 

“I think we’re doing a good job of being faithful to the charter that was shared out that everybody can read—because everybody has a right to know what it is that we’re doing,” Dallinger said. “But I think that, you know, our goal is to follow that protocol, as faithfully and fairly as we can.”

Killy emailed the DCC charter to high school students and staff in February of 2019, but it hasn’t been sent out to students since then. 

Dallinger also defended the DCC’s secrecy, saying the DCC charter gives the GDS community enough information to know how the DCC works.

“There’s always that desire to want to know, but at the same time what I would say is if it was you, you don’t want to necessarily let people into your personal business,” Dallinger said. “So if it’s not you, you shouldn’t necessarily then be let into other people’s personal business. We want to respect the people in this community and respect their right to not have everything broadcasted publicly.”

Killy said he plans on getting feedback on the committee from students and faculty later this year. The program, he noted, is open for revisions. 

Killy describer the goal for after the two-year pilot program: “We kind of look at how it’s worked, how it hasn’t worked, how to make tweaks for next year or decide to get rid of it if people are like, ‘this is really a terrible idea.’” 

The Disciplinary Process:

Cases begin with an interview between the student accused of misbehavior, the student’s grade dean and often another adult in the High School administration. Then, there’s an investigation run by the dean, during which the dean has interviews with other students who might know more about the case. The notes from those interviews are given to Katie Gibson, who then determines if the case should go to the DCC or not. If the case involves a minor offense, sexual harassment or a first time incident of academic dishonesty, the case does not reach the DCC. Also, if the case reaching DCC could negatively affect a student’s mental health, DCC does not try the case. If Gibson decides that it should go to the DCC, either Coates or Dallinger is given a case report with the notes from the interviews—sometimes with redacted information. 

The faculty chair for the case (either Coates or Dallinger) randomly selects six students to serve on the case from the pool of the DCC’s members. Two deans are chosen by availability, but the dean who did the interviewing does not serve on the case. The students learn the details of the case, and they recuse themselves because of conflicts of interest if needed. The DCC member should recuse themselves if they are named in the case, related to anyone named in the case or have a positive or negative relationship or friendship with anyone named in the case. The chair sets a time and contacts the person who’s being brought before the DCC. That person can choose to come before the DCC or choose not to. The DCC meets to go over the notes from that case, and sometimes they question the dean who did the interviews. If the student comes to present, then the DCC has a conversation about the case—what happened, what didn’t happen, what they know and what they don’t know.

 They make a recommendation for disciplinary action—which could be anywhere from no discipline to being expelled from school. The proposal is sent to Gibson. If she agrees with the recommendation, then the student is given that punishment. If there’s a disagreement, she goes back to the DCC and explains how she feels about the punishment. They try to find a compromise that works, but, if there is no compromise, the case goes to Head of School Russell Shaw to make the final decision.

Abby Murphy ’20

Current DCC Members:

Faculty Co-ChairsCliff Coates, Greg Dallinger
StudentsClass of 2020: Duncan Edwards, Julia Hay, Ethan Litmans, Ana-Sophia Mostashari

Class of 2021: Ashton Brubaker, Reuben Charles, EJ Joseph, Justice Shelton

Class of 2022: Caroline Antonipillai, Phoebe Braun, Nolawit Elias, Ben Finkelstein
DeansAnna Howe, Khalid Bashir, Julie Stein, Abe Pachikara