September 7, 2012
A dozen Stuyvesant High School students will be suspended for as long as two weeks and more than 50 others could face short-term suspension for cheating.
The punishments are only one component of the school’s renewed response to a broad cheating scandal that broke this summer. Stuyvesant’s new principal, Jie Zhang, is also requiring students to sign on to an academic honesty policy, urging the creation of an “honor code,” and cracking down on student cell phones.
Department of Education officials announced in July that they had determined that 71 students had cheated on final exams, with all but two receiving answers in advance to a city Spanish exam. They said at the time that a student who provided the answers would be suspended and not allowed to return to the school, the city’s most elite. They also said more punishments could come this fall but did not say how many students faced suspension.
Today, the city announced that the number is 66. Zhang informed the students and their families today about the suspensions, which for some students will start on Monday.
A second phase in the department’s investigation into the cheating, which is ongoing, is looking at the school’s original response. The department did not learn about the cheating until nearly a week after then-Principal Stanley Teitel sent a letter to parents informing them that some students had been punished, and the penalties the school levied did not match those outlined in the city’s discipline code.
Teitel barred students who had cheated from participating in graduation activities. But city policy calls for more stringent punishment. Now, 12 students will receive a superintendent’s suspension, which is meted out for more serious offenses and can last for up to 10 days, according to the department. They will have to report to special centers that the department operates for suspended students. Another 54 could face shorter-term principal’s suspensions. In a letter to the students and their families, Zhang said the punishments would be finalized in “suspension conferences” starting next week.
Teitel retired abruptly last month and Zhang was appointed to replace him a week later. She said at the time that her first goal would be improving the school’s “culture” so that cheating does not take place.
“I have not been made aware … or have a reason to believe that there is ongoing cheating there,” Zhang said. “However, my top priority is to create a positive school culture that ensures integrity and zero tolerance for cheating.”
Changes were palpable on the first day of classes, students said as they left the building Thursday. Some reported being required to sign contracts in each class saying they would not cheat or plagiarize. The contract, which the city provided to reporters today, asked students to confirm that they had read an academic honesty policy and understood that cheating would result in no credit and possible suspensions.
One student told GothamSchools that teachers were also stricter this week about whether students could use electronic devices, such as iPods or cell phones, to take notes.
City policy bars students from bringing cell phones to school, but in some schools such as Stuyvesant where there are no metal detectors, the policy has not always been enforced. Teitel had petitioned the city for temporary metal detectors during testing periods, but the city turned down the request. The student who initiated the cheating scandal did so by taking a picture of an exam with his cell phone.
Zhang said she would enforce the city’s policy. During the first two days of classes, school officials confiscated 17 student cell phones, according to the Department of Education.
In a letter to families, Zhang said she is urging the student government to craft an honor code as “a public sign of our commitment to uphold academic integrity at Stuyvesant High School.” In the wake of the scandal, some have criticized the school for breeding a culture of competitiveness in which cheating is inevitable.
Walcott said today that he was satisfied with Zhang’s handling of the disciplinary issues.
“As we said at the start of this investigation, we have zero tolerance for cheating or academic dishonesty of any kind, and the students involved in this incident will now face disciplinary action,” he said in a statement. ” I want to thank Principal Zhang for her assistance and for the steps she has already taken to restore academic integrity.”