By Belinda Terry P’20
As parents, we are happy to share in our children’s achievements: getting into Deerfield, scoring a winning goal, performing the lead role in a play, acing a math test, getting into college, etc. But what to do and where to go when the messy and unpleasant happens?
When our son prepared to enter Deerfield in Fall 2016, we were not thinking about this as we immersed ourselves in all things Green, filled out the necessary forms and prepared to move our beloved child into his new home away from home.
A few days before we packed the car, an e-mail arrived in our son’s new Deerfield account with a link to the Deerfield student handbook entitled “Rules and Expectations for Deerfield Academy Students” which I dutifully read because it was, sort of, required. Most of it dealt with the Major School Rules; my son wasn’t going to break any rules, he never got into real trouble. After a brief discussion with my son, I felt no qualms whatsoever when my son “acknowledged that my parents/guardians and I have read and understood the online version of Deerfield’s Student Handbook, in its entirety” and I placed a hard copy into the Deerfield file and shut the drawer.
Before long, we were off to Deerfield. The first year was a roller coaster ride of homesickness, academic pitfalls, incubating every germ that festered in the petri dish known as the Village, our son’s sudden inability to remember our home phone number or how to text!
By late spring, things seemed to be really good and, with the last exam a week away, we were counting the days until he was home. So, when the phone rang on that Tuesday night in May, and the caller ID announced my son was calling, I picked up the phone with glee and yelled his name, silence ensued.
“Mom, I need you to listen and not say anything for a few minutes.” I recognized the voice of his advisor say in the background, “Belinda, I’m here too.” I listened to my son tell me that he had been caught drinking alcohol and that he would be going in front of the “DC” the next day.
I was angry, scared, hurt and disappointed … but I was also confused. I asked his advisor, “What exactly happens next?” My son would be escorted to the Health Center for drug and alcohol testing. He would write a statement about the events that transpired the previous weekend, as he would need to read his statement to the DC at his upcoming disciplinary meeting.
The following day his advisor would escort him to the DC (that term again) and the facts would be presented and he could have someone speak on his behalf. The DC would then make a recommendation for punishment that could be a Letter of Warning, a 3-Day Suspension, or even Expulsion.
“Should I drive up?” I asked. “No, we’ll call you when it is over,” he said. I told my son I loved him but I was beyond disappointed. Before hanging up, he said he was disappointed in himself, was sorry, and he loved me too.
I ran to find my Deerfield File. “DC” stands for Discipline Committee. The “Rules and Expectations” chapter clearly states what it is, what it does, and who is on it, but it did not explain what my husband and I were supposed to do whilst awaiting the outcome. As I pored over the list of Major Rules (chapter 3) and the Disciplinary Process (chapter 7), my emotions swung to either end of the spectrum. Deerfield, thankfully, takes many aspects into consideration when dealing with broken rules, but when it’s YOUR child’s behavior being judged and punished, I admit it, common sense and rational thinking were in short supply.
I called a few friends and found that some of their children had also strayed and according to one, “it was the best thing that could have happened to him.” Really???
Many students who had previously experienced the DC reached out to our son and his co-conspirators and were told “tell the truth and own what you did, don’t try and make up a better version, they’ve heard it all before.” They were wise words that I’m glad they all followed.
On the evening following the DC’s findings (3 day suspension, mandatory random drug and alcohol tests for the remainder of his time at DA, and the incident is on his record), my phone was flooded with emails from my son sharing copies of thank-you texts. He and his friends had spoken to their classmates at an impromptu class meeting. Their message – if you are ever tempted to break a major rule, please call us first, because it really isn’t worth it! The texts thanked him for speaking from the heart about their experience and not hiding from what they had done. Many noted how happy they were to call him a classmate and friend and how proud they were of him and his friends for talking openly with the class. Through my tears, I prayed that we were back on the path of being worthy of our heritage.
Not unlike the movie “Groundhog Day”, every year there is a new class of teenagers who make mistakes, sometimes really unfortunate ones. This past fall brought a new incident with several young men facing the DC after their own poor judgment. Almost immediately, my phone began ringing. My son shared what had happened, or likely the rumor mill’s version, and was clearly shaken up. A few familiar names were mentioned and my heart broke, again. He mentioned that he’d reached out to the boys to share his experience and advice and to even offer to be an advocate with the DC. When asked how he was feeling, he responded, “Mom, thank God I already did my one strike last year because I’ll NEVER do that again, trust me.” I pray that is true.
Do I wish my child never needed to go before the Disciplinary Committee? I can honestly say, yes and no. Not all experiences with the DC process end as well as ours did. Knowing that teenagers make mistakes is easy… until it is your teenager. We should take comfort in knowing that the DC process at Deerfield is fair. However, I encourage you to read the “Rules and Expectations for Deerfield Academy Students”, as you may be surprised at what you don’t know.