This decision, and everything that has occurred over the past week, is setting a precedent for the future of our discipline system. While there is no explicit statement of this standard, the federal court system uses precedent law, and without any other clear system in place at Milton, students tend to expect the same consistency.
While the sentiment of the “Section 5D” chanting in the Stu is moving, the discipline system at our school must be carefully considered before the justice of the people - however reactionary or, frankly, groundless - is inflicted upon any errant member of the community. To clarify the basis of this article, the foremost physical evidence (as opposed to hearsay) the community has in regard to this situation are two offensive snapchats, exchanged with the intention of privacy.
Section 5D of the Student Handbook states that “harassment (on the basis of actual or perceived race, color, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, national origin, disability, or any other legally protected class)” is against major school policy. Later, on page 64, harassment is defined as “unwelcome conduct or behavior that is personally offensive or threatening and that has the effect of impairing morale, interfering with a student’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive educational environment.” This statement is vague enough to leave the particular situation at hand up to interpretation: the snapchats did not appear to be personal, but they did ultimately have the effect of creating a hostile environment, whether or not the senders intended that to be the case.
The handbook continues to explain harassment as “between two individuals or groups of individuals and can occur via any medium of communication,” where the snapchats at their inception were exchanged between two individuals (or, in the case of a “mass snap,” between one individual and other separate individuals) that were not emotionally impacted. But, after the snapchats were uncovered, the hostility became an exchange between the individual creator and the individual discovering the evidence, and eventually, as word and the snapchat spread around, the group of individuals who were emotionally affected. (Note that how the evidence was leaked is uncertain or unknown to the majority of students affected.) On page 65, the handbook specifies that “racial, color and national origin harassment is harassment on the basis of a person’s actual or perceived race, color or national origin,” under which any blackface and yellowface would fall.
Yet, aside from the emotional reverbs that these snapchats caused, the due process remains conflicted by the late timing of the discovery and the intended privacy the evidence was created in. Whether or not the perpetrators have truly “changed” in the two years that have elapsed since these snapchats were sent is not the objective question. As a community, of course we would hope this to be the case, but the validity of evidence rests in the statute of limitations. A “reasonable amount of time” is another vague statement, and though the state of Massachusetts has generally accepted a maximum of three years as reasonable for this type of offense, the Milton discipline system is within a private institution of minors and layers of contracts. Drawing inspiration, not using the same systems, from federal laws - which would suggest the evidence was obtained within acceptable parameters - is the most the administration can do.
After all, gains in maturity must be taken into account when dealing with actions of two teenagers after a span of over ten percent of their lives. (While more recently discovered actions might suggest this growth hasn’t been significant enough to undo the proof altogether, these revelations are leaning more towards hearsay than concrete evidence to be used.)
But if nothing else, this situation is complicated. If you get caught drinking on campus and test positive for a BAC higher than, say, 0.1, the answer is clearly, yes, you did intend to consume and yes, you did break school rules. Yet, forcing abstracts like intention, immaturity, and racial prejudice into a binary of “DC-able” and “not DC-able” will never amount to a truly fair answer for everyone, spectators and participants alike.