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Fairness Committee hands Agenda Chair first ‘strike’ under new ‘covenant’

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AGENDA: Daniel Lorell poses beside the Shalhevet Just Community Constitution after his victory last June.

Agenda Chair Daniel Lorell has been given a first strike by the Fairness Committee for violating a new “covenant” requiring him to follow school rules and participate in events.

Enforcing the covenant with a “three strike rule” was decided by the Fairness Committee after Agenda faculty adviser Rabbi Ari Schwarzberg took Daniel to Fairness for being late to Kabbalat Shabbat services on the freshman-senior retreat Sept.1, which he deemed to be a violation of the covenant.

Daniel admitted he had been late to services, but said the covenant was too vague for him to have known he was violating it.

“It says to participate in school events, which I did,” said Daniel, since he came to the rest of the activities in the retreat. “I gave my best effort and this was the first time I had done anything other than exemplify the values enumerated in the covenant.”

The Fairness decision, shared with the Boiling Point by Fairness chair Benny Zaghi, states that three violations of the covenant will result in a community-wide re-vote on the chair.

The basic guidelines and themes of the covenant were discussed by the executives of the committee (Secretary Tobey Lee, Vice Chair Talia Gill, Agenda Chair Daniel Lorell) at the end of last year. Agenda faculty adviser Ms. Aviva Walls then wrote the first draft of the covenant because, she said,  the committee “divides responsibilities and it ended up being my responsibility.”

Rabbi Schwarzberg edited her draft and then the faculty advisers brought the document to committee members for their signatures.

Rabbi Schwarzberg said the covenant came from a need to define “what it means to be a student leader and what it means to represent the school.”

“That comes with two responsibilities beyond the particular committee,” Rabbi Schwarzberg said. “That is to model for other students what it means to be a leader at Shalhevet, that could be anything from acting appropriately when there’s a guest speaker, being on time to class, being on time to davening, not being disruptive etc.”

Secondly, he said, there are a number of events that the school has, like Open House, that “require student leadership to articulate and model what student leaders at Shalhevet look like.” The covenant required presence and participation in both environments; appropriate behavior within school and student events, and at events with people from outside of Shalhevet.

Rabbi Schwarzberg said the view of the school is that if someone is a leader, they should model the values of the school, within reason.

“We understand what it means to be a junior or senior in high school,” he added.

According to Rabbi Schwarzberg, the covenant is between the committee members and “the school community.”

He and Ms. Walls considered bringing the discussion of student leadership to Town Hall, but there was “a need in the moment to establish this.”

Ms. Walls said it had to do with a concern of accountability in previous years.

“It came out of a reaction from what happened with Agenda last year,” she said. “There was no accountability, people didn’t show up to meetings…In order to avoid that, we set expectations early and we’re holding people accountable to those expectations.

“Part of that is through signature, and part of that is calling people out — in the gentlest, kindest way.”

Rabbi Schwarzberg and Ms. Walls said they are open to the student body discussing it, but were not sure if most students would be concerned about something primarily affecting student government leaders.

“There are some things that are better to be left drafted by the bodies that it most directly affects,” Ms. Walls said, comparing it to if the student body discussed the rules for Model Congress trips.

Agenda Vice Chair Talia Gill said she expected to have to sign a covenant because in her interview for candidacy, Rabbi Schwarzberg and Ms. Walls asked lots of questions about student leadership. It did not change her feeling about running.

“If anything, it probably made me like it more,” Talia said. “It’s just that when you run for a student leadership position that means more than just participating inside the school.”

She added that if the student doesn’t believe what he or she did warrants a strike, there should be a discussion between the student and their faculty advisor. If they cannot come to a resolution, she thinks it should go to Fairness.

Rabbi Schwarzberg said the covenant was brought forward by faculty since Shalhevet is not a “true democracy,” but takes a “democratic approach to education.”

“I think we need to amend the word ‘democracy’ for Shalhevet,” he said. “It is a democratic approach to education, but we’re clearly not a democracy. For example, the administration approves student proposals for them to become law. That’s clearly something that is different from a democratic state.”

He said faculty are there to work with students, offer their expertise and professional experience in order to “shape the best product possible.”

“It is the responsibility of the adults to not abuse that power,” he added.

 

THE FAIRNESS CASE

Fairness Decision Complete

The “three strike rule” that enforces the covenant arose when Agenda Chair Daniel Lorell missed most of the Friday night services on the senior retreat, which Rabbi Schwarzberg saw as a violation of the covenant but Daniel did not. The two eventually agreed that the covenant’s definition of being “enthusiastic participants in school programming” was too vague.

Daniel’s interpretation of the compact would say he did not break the agreement, since he did participate in the senior retreat by attending the rest of it in full. He also believes that he should mainly be expected to participate in events that require student representatives, like Open House.

Rabbi Schwarzberg said he brought the case forward to clarify the practical execution of the covenant.

“Because I think this was a point of ambiguity for Daniel, and maybe even for us as well, of establishing some parameters for being the Agenda chair this year,” Rabbi Schwarzberg said.

He said he told the Fairness Committe that the case was not at all about consequences.

“I’m here for you guys to parse this out and think about what it means to be a good leader at this school,” he said he told them.

He said he was looking to have something that is “as clear as possible about what the expectations are,” admitting the covenant was unclear.

Rabbi Schwarzberg added that if he saw the ruling was “missing the purpose” then he would try to appeal it or add edits to it. He said he is fine with the community discussing it, but is not sure every student could be engaged in an hour-long Town Hall just about student leaders.

 

THE DECISION

The decision states that this year the Agenda chair gets three strikes. On a first strike, he will receive a warning; the second strike would result in a punishment, and the severity of violation would be considered by the Fairness Committee. The third strike would lead to a re-vote of the chair by the community.

Next year, the committee ruled, all student government committee chairs, not just Agenda, would be subject to this policy, because only the Agenda chair knowingly signed the covenant this year. Daniel thought all chairs should follow the covenant this year.

“If it’s an issue of consenting to this before running, that’s not how it went with me, so I don’t see why the other chairs are not included,” Daniel said.

Fairness co-chair Benny Zaghi said this decision “gave students chances to make human mistakes, but still held them accountable.” Twelfth grade representative Amin Lari thought three strikes was too harsh, but his view was the minority. Benny said three strikes would be enough, and if something was too small to be a strike then it could be a discussion between the chair and the faculty adviser.

Any faculty member can recommend a chair receive a strike, Benny added.

Rabbi Schwarzberg said he thought the new policy was harsh, and said he was open to discussing it, too, in Town Hall.

“If kids were against it, I would be disappointed by that,” he said. “The purpose of covenant was to ensure that those committing themselves to Agenda are doing it for the right reasons.”

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Fairness Committee hands Agenda Chair first ‘strike’ under new ‘covenant’