Prep school disciplinary policy re alerting colleges

This is really a vent / cautionary tale for parents of not-perfect kids concerned about college admissions. In case you are not sure, if you have a kid, that kid is not perfect.

Our son is a senior at a top boarding school. He absolutely loved the school and was a leader on campus. Sending him to boarding school was a huge sacrifice (financial and otherwise) but he really wanted it. He was a bi-varsity athlete and a progressed from prefect as a junior to RA his senior year. Last December we got a call from him - crying so hard he couldn’t breathe - that he was in trouble. He had smoked pot off campus over the weekend, and a student who was caught for other infractions said he had provided pot to my son. The deans showed up in his dorm room, demanded a drug test, and searched his room (which was clean). However, since he knew that he would be drug tested he confessed.

I can tell you that I never ever thought my son would do what he did and it was inexcusable. He was suspended and sent home. The humiliation was incredible. And deserved. For the rest of the year he is drug tested regularly and going to a counselor.

The consequences have been pretty far reaching though. For something that happened 100 % off campus, for which the school’s only evidence was a voluntarily given drug test, the school sends a letter to all colleges where a student has applied to say that the student was subject to disciplinary action. On the common ap they then need to write an explanation of what happened, taking full responsibility. He was also stripped of his RA status. Being an RA was a huge time commitment and a major extra curricular to be highlighted on his college applications - until it wasn’t.

Anyway, he had a pretty disappointing college acceptance season despite good grades, a near perfect ACT score, and very challenging curriculum, including Chinese.

I can’t be sure that the suspension and the loss of RA status led to being rejected from some colleges, but if it did, it was due to an action that would never lead to discipline at a non-boarding school. One of our goals as parents sending our kids to boarding school IS a good college placement. I was glad that the consequences of his infraction were major but I have serious concerns about the impact they had on his future.

On a related note, one of the most common reasons for suspension is plagiarism. This does have a HUGE impact on college admissions. The issue at his school is that more than once a student has been found to have plagiarized when there are a few scattered phrases in a paper that match those (found using software) from another source - when it could easily have been inadvertent. Colleges don’t care a ton about pot smoking on the weekend, but plagiarism can be devastating.

And, final note, star athletes found doing much worse have somehow had their discipline overturned.

4 years ago I was a smug mom 100 % certain that my kid would never ever do anything wrong and supporting the toughest possible discipline to keep out bad kids or kids who didn’t adequately appreciate the opportunities of boarding school. Now having lived through this my attitude is quite different.

Wow,I’m worried now,what if I get framed for plagiarizing on accident. Feel bad that smoking pot caused him to get into such trouble, though the disciplinary action definitely will teach him not to smoke ever again(least not near school).

Unfortunately, it seems schools (both public and private) can be very arbitrary about these things. In our town, there were some boys at a house party where the police were called due to noise. Unfortunately some of the kids were drinking (underage). Everyone at the party was suspended from school and kicked off of their sports teams, whether they were actually drinking or not. Some of the boys had already committed to college sports teams but lost those commitments when the school notified the colleges of the suspension and disciplinarian action.

I’m so sorry about what happened to your son. I don’t understand why school officials don’t consider more carefully whether the consequences of their punishment actually fit the gravity of the crime.

Wow, I’m shocked they go to such extremes with notifying colleges for a first time offense. I guess you can’t make even a single mistake these days. Would the punishment have been identical if it was alcohol?

I have observed that these boarding schools have very arbitrary disciplinary policies and procedures. First, I do not believe the school should be able to proactively contact a college about anything unless it is something that is a felony. Pot is now legal in most states (to which I am vehemently opposed) and as such I think its ridiculous to have school policies that treat actions with more severity than those that have been legally condoned on a national level. On a side note I think you should have contacted an attorney to communicate with the school. Boys are treated far worse than girls in general in disciplinary matters and I believe that if someone did a study, akin to womens’ pay across industries, you would see that boys (with later maturing brains) suffer far more in these schools in not only severity of punishment but even getting in trouble. I.e a girl can send someone a naked picture of herself but the boy gets in trouble. Girl–no repercussions. This is happening OVER and OVER.

Sorry to hear about your son, before punishing they should consider the future consequences on child and society. I guess he might be under radar it’s not first time…hope things will change positively

I’m sorry, @psparent! It seems we all need to be on pins and needles until our kids are grown adults, and even then. I wonder if the school had a clearly communicated written policy for dealing with these kinds of issues. Was your son’s punishment strictly according to policy? I also wonder, in these situations, is there even a possibility for the family to get involved?

As luck would have it, on our flight back from visiting schools I was seated next to a man who had graduated from a HADES school. He did NOT send this kids to BS precisely because of the strict disciplinary policies in which the stakes are so high for kids being caught pushing boundaries, which is what the adolescent brain is programmed to do.

He said it could really distort kids’ development. That by senior year, kids at BS become extraordinarily good at managing two very distinct selves, one for adult consumption and one for peers. He said it made them absolute masters at keeping secrets and hiding things. (But that it didn’t keep them for partying hard). He claimed it made them less likely to go to adults for help, too because it turned adults into the police. The stricter the policies, the more underground the kids’ go with their behavior.

He chose to keep his kids at home because he wanted them to know that they were loved even if they made mistakes and faulty decisions. He didn’t think minor offenses deserved punishments that might have longer term consequences that didn’t fit the crime.

I had NEVER thought about things from that perspective. Would love @sadieshadow and anyone else with insight into adolescent development.

He did say that if he sent his kids to BS, he would avoid his alma mater and any school with easy access to empty houses nearby (meaning access to country homes or homes left empty due to traveling parents.)

@CaliMex What a chilling perspective.

About empty houses…avoiding BS does not help with this. There are plenty of houses that are parent-less for a weekend or weeks at a time in the burbs. And plenty of public school kids to party in the houses. Partying is not reserved for BS kids.

@psparent: Thank you for sharing your cautionary tale. I feel for your situation. I know that this has not been pleasant.

Since you cannot go back in time or change anything, if you can, please try not to focus on the what-ifs or perceived unfairness of disparate treatment and, instead, embrace some of the positives related to this experience.

First, be glad your school is not a one-strike school. If it had that policy in place, your son would have been moving out the next day, never to return.

Second, hopefully, your son has learned important lessons about: personal responsibility, the higher standards expected of good leaders in the community, and the potential impact of his choices with regard to drug use.

Third, although current acceptances might be suboptimal, he will be going to college, and will be well prepared to excel there. Transfer is always a potential.

@carpoolingma I think his point was that if you go to your local school and live at home, getting caught partying in an empty house won’t be as high stakes… so picking a BS with fewer possibilities helps avoid those extreme situations / consequences that distort behavior.

At a normal public school, getting caught with Alcohol or drugs OFF school property will have zero repercussions. I am really bothered by the OP’s story. I agree all the punishment given the student is appropriate EXCEPT the part where they report off campus activities to colleges - especially for a first time offense. I think this s ridiculous.

That’s not entirely true. You might not have any repercussions from the school but there will be consequences- in most States parents are responsible for all minors in their homes- house parties can and will cause parents a lot of money and sometimes court time- Many, many teens get arrested in our area every weekend for drugs, parties, drunk driving, drunk boating… it def. affects college results as well-

i think the catch is the drug test… if the school has the right to ask for a random drug sample at any time, then it wouldn’t matter where he smoked the pot. As an RA he would know this. I have heard stories of entire dorms having random drug screenings ( and yes, mostly boys dorms) bc there were rumors of drugs-

When we looked at schools one of the conversations we kept having was about the age of the repeaters. While it makes the earlier years (maturity) & sports ( size/experience) easier, I can not imagine being a late18-20 year old senior in a boarding school with dorm check in, without a car, limited dating, social stucture… I can only imagine the mess they can get themselves into! What are the BS doing to prevent the boredom of these otherwise young adults? It’s a real problem.
I personally “somehow” find myself driving my BS teen by her cinder block LPS the size of a Vegas Convention Center every time she’s home- like to remind her where she WILL go if she forgets her BS rules!

@psparent Sorry you and your child had to go through the stress inducing process of disciplinary action at boarding school. I echo what @EarlyMTNester suggested regarding transfer potential if desired. I’ve know quite a few BS kids who have transferred to more selective colleges after a successful start at the initial school.

Thanks for bringing an important subject to the forefront. It’s important for every child and parent to read and understand the school’s policy handbook. I think the process of notifying colleges of disciplinary action and of disciplining for violations for off-campus activity is fairly universal. As mentioned, it can be even more harsh for one strike schools and a reason I am not a fan of one strike policies. Teens do make mistakes and seem to have it wired into them to test boundaries and experiment.

It’s really easy to look at your kid when 13/14 and being the boarding school process and think, well, I’ll never have to worry about THAT stuff with Junior. And Junior might think that him/herself. 15/16/17/18, much different. I’ll be honest that with one of my kids we really sweated it out until kiddo crossed the graduation stage and was handed a diploma. Great kid (says mom) but a bit of an independent streak. Gave me extra gray hair. Like in all high schools, there will be drugs, drinking, sex, and silly stuff that just breaks rules. Some kids will cheat, plagiarize. You can look at some of the surveys and you’ll see that it is a sizable percentage that will engage in some kind of rule breaking behavior before they graduate. They all think they are smarter than they are and won’t get caught - until they do. Or someone else gets caught and they all go quiet for a little while out of fear and a reminder, but that only lasts so long. I do have sympathy for the school administration in trying to enforce rules. Without some harsh consequences, I’m sure all hell would break loose. It’s a tough call to make. One advantage to BS in my own days was that, unlike parents who could be fickle or emotional about punishments and thus inconsistent, at BS you knew the penalties as they were all laid out.

I’ve always said that BS starts off giving a kid more freedom than he/she would have at home at 14 but by the time they graduate it is usually much more restrictive than life at home and at public school. As far as public schools and partying, in my area, every year or two there is a big party busted by town police and kids get charged for underaged drinking. At least at BS, no one brings the cops in for your underage drinker or pot smoker.

It might be worth noting that you can always suggest your child call you before agreeing to anything or saying anything when confronted. I do know families who have “voluntarily” pulled their kid out before disciplinary action progressed. Not saying that is the right way to handle it, or the way your child will learn the most, but it is done.

As far as notifying colleges, I think it is done regardless of the offense whether it is marijuana, drinking, or cheating or plagiarism. How much colleges consider it a knock will depend on what it was and when the infraction took place. Make a mistake in 9th or 10th grade and one can successfully spin it as a learning experience. In 12th grade, it is every parent’s nightmare and much harder to justify in that way. I will also add that plenty of disciplined kids go on to very good colleges. It might not be the tippy top schools one had their heart set on, but they are still going to have wonderful colleges that will accept them and provide a great education. I know several examples of such from my kids’ friends and classmates. Doing well at fine institutions. In the big scheme of things, it wasn’t overly harsh or limiting to them.

Read those handbooks. Talk to your kids. Give them constant reminders. Be careful of what kind of permissions you give them for off campus gatherings. Those off campus gatherings and weekends can be bad news.

“First, I do not believe the school should be able to proactively contact a college about anything unless it is something that is a felony.”
There are things that BS are required by law to notify the police about, selling drugs and sexual assault being two off the top of my head. It’ll be a matter of public record. As far as the rest, as private schools you and your children agree to abide by the rules as laid down by the school. Make sure you understand what you are signing.

What does the schools rules and regulations say about this? My concern would be did the school follow their procedures. If the infraction happened off grounds, did the student return to the school while under the influence making it not just an off site incident? I think proactively notifying the colleges was a bit unusually but this would have had to been disclosed on the mid year report sent in January anyway.

Among other wording, here’s the exact wording from the SPS handbook: “Behaving in a manner inconsistent with the School’s expectations while away on a weekend and during vacations.”

I would assume that other schools would have something similar. Curious to know if that is not the case.

@suzyQ7, “At a normal public school, getting caught with Alcohol or drugs OFF school property will have zero repercussions.”

Not true for athletes.

^this… My DD and I just had this conversation over spring break. She went to Europe with her BS choir and I asked her how they handled the 18 year olds drinking- She showed me the above policy- I teased her- how do they possibly know- you were allowed to go off on your own to lunch and dinner?! She said its an honor system and you are expected to refrain from all drugs & alcohol while at SPS including over summer breaks- have the conversations with your teens-

Form one boarding schools handbook:

When students are suspended from XXXX, these suspensions will be reported to the colleges to which the students apply. In the case of seniors who are in the midst of the college process, these suspensions will be reported promptly following their return from the suspension. In addition, if a student’s record changes in some fundamental fashion, the school will report these changes to colleges.

It just occurred to me we are appropriately discussing this on 4/20.