On March 22, incidents of cheating came to light in some PHS classes when AP Chemistry teacher Dr. Robert Corell implied that multiple groups of students had shared answers on a Student Growth Objective during the lunch break. At 11:30 a.m. Corell posted to the AP Chemistry Facebook group that no curves on the SGO, extra credit, or letters of recommendation will be given until those guilty of cheating confessed. He revised his statement the next day at 4:34 p.m. by allowing an SGO curve.
Prior to the punishments, Corell had been informed of cheating by students who were aware of the incidents. “I had two students come up to me and tell me specific—not names—but instances of how students were cheating,” Corell said. “Basically, students in my afternoon classes were asking students in my morning classes … exactly what was on the test and specifically had a booklet of questions. All my questions come from old AP exams and [the cheating students] were going through them and asking which questions were on the exam.”
Some students responded to Corell’s unilaterally imposed consequences by formally expressing concern. Mihir Somaiya ’17, for example, sent a letter to Corell expressing his opinion. “I am completely in accord with the motivation of [Dr. Corell’s] actions, being that cheating and academic dishonesty is wrong both morally and by the school code,” wrote Somaiya in his letter. “Although the academically dishonest students must be found and punished … It seems to me, along with the vast majority of students with whom I have conferred, that it is not effective to burden all students with these academic restrictions while those who cheated are still at liberty to do so … [I] harbor concern that the method [Dr. Corell has] chosen to pursue in order to force confessions out of students will do more harm than good.”
Other students have responded less complacently, and, under stress, have harassed students into confessing. “[The punishment] has been very [effective]; in one case almost too effective because certain kids starting harassing another student to come forward because they knew that this student was directly involved,” Corell said. “I actually told my class I thought the harassment was just as bad as the cheating. If you didn’t have the guts to name names then don’t complain … If you know what is going on and you don’t come forward, you’re just as guilty as the person doing the cheating, in my opinion.”
Though in disagreement over some the unfairness in the consequences, some students recognize its necessity in confronting the cheating issue. “It was courageous of him to try and stop [the cheating],” Maybelle Kusumoto ’17 said. “I feel like [cheating] is a problem in general at PHS. People ask for homework and test answers. Although there is an honor code here, no one really follows it.”
Despite Corell’s efforts, some students still view the the actions negatively. “I don’t think the [consequences are fair],” Justin Ho ’16 said. “A lot of people don’t cheat, and you should be punishing students who [explicitly] did wrong instead of punishing those who happen to be in AP Chemistry.”
Despite the actions taken to minimize cheating in AP Chemistry, Corell still feels much has to be done to address the issue of overall cheating at PHS. “I think that the academic honor code that was developed a few years ago was a good start, but it is not the end-all and be-all,” Corell said. “There has to be something done from both the administrative and faculty point. A point has to be made. There has to be somebody, unfortunately, who has to be a sacrificial lamb, who has to be exposed and punished for the cheating and I think that’s the only way.”