by Abe Asher
On the last Thursday before Thanksgiving break, the 19th of November, a law enforcement presence — complete with shuttered windows across offices in the main high school building — set into motion a chain of events that resulted in members of the OES community learning over the next 24 hours about a police investigation into an Upper School student.
Students were formally informed en masse at a 9:00 meeting in the Chapel. Parents got an email shortly thereafter. The alleged misconduct did not take place on the OES campus, and did not occur at an OES sanctioned event.
For now, that’s all we officially know.
The Aardvark Dig is committed to responsibly, sensitively, and fairly report this situation as it develops.
It’s important to understand that much of what is happening is out of OES’ control. “This is not our investigation. We are not conducting an investigation,” said Upper School Head Jordan Elliott on Friday afternoon.
For now, the school has to wait for police proceedings to unfold before taking further action. For now, it’s playing something of a waiting game.
Dean of Students, English teacher, and Dig Advisor Kara Tambellini said, “We don’t know the endpoint for the school. We don’t have any knowledge about the state of the police investigation. It can close, or they can bring charges — tomorrow, or next August.”
It was announced on the first day back at school from Thanksgiving break that the student under investigation had been placed on “leave” for the next three weeks, until the start of Winter Break.
“This situation is sufficiently complex that I’ve made the decision to put the student on a leave from school so we can assess the impact of the investigation on the school and students,” Jordan said.
“This leave is not a suspension. It’s not discipline. The student is able to continue his schoolwork,” Jordan said. At the same time, it wasn’t as if the student had the choice of whether to accept this three week leave. The result was a sort of off-the-books suspension that OES has very rarely, if ever, handed down.
When asked about this unusual disciplinary conduct, Jordan said “This is a situation that is very much outside of the norm for us. No adult in this community felt like the DC was the right way to handle this. It’s not what the DC was built for or equipped to do.”
Conversations are ongoing about how to proceed from this point. “Unfortunately, this whole thing is unfolding,” Jordan said. “Right now what has unfolded takes us through January 4th, and then there’s a decision to be made about what happens after January 4th.”
Those discussions are starting now. The week before Thanksgiving, Jordan was in Asia visiting past and prospective students and families — while trying to coordinate how to inform students and teachers of what was going on.
“I was on the phone from Korea for hours and hours and hours to be a part of that process. I wasn’t here, but that was all of us deciding. A team will make a better decision than just one individual,” Jordan said.
He was part of that team, which included Associate Head of School Deri Bash, nurse Elaine Elliott, counselor Amanda Weber-Welch, chaplain Jenny Cleveland, Associate Head of School Chris Schuck, and Deans Kara and Deb Walsh.
All US faculty received an email late on Thursday night calling them to a staff meeting at 7:45 AM on Friday morning. Some did not know what was happening, a circumstance created its own set of problems.
The decision was made to tell students in the Chapel instead of the Great Hall because of its more formal setting; while the decision to break the news early instead of late in the day was made because, “Here you have normalcy, structure, support, your routine, and those things keep you moving forward,” Kara said. Having students at school while the news settled was a priority.
At some point — no one can know quite when — resolution is coming on a school level.
“The school is going to have to do something to help us move on. That’s coming, and people are going to have to be ready for it,” Jordan said.
It is an issue, he added, that effects students and faculty in different ways.
“There’s certainly around this situation context in the Class of ’16. But it’s important for us to think about every student at OES, and remain as neutral as possible — recognizing our biases so we can make a balanced and well informed decision about what to do,” Jordan said.
He continued, “I would ask people to trust that there is a lot of intention going on to remain unbiased — it doesn’t mean it’s easy, but there’s attention being paid to that process.”
“I’m always open to talk to students — Kara and Deb are as well — if they have questions or concerns,” Jordan said. “This is hitting people in a whole variety of ways, and we can get people to help with whatever students are feeling.”
There is only so much information the school knows and can release. The student will remain nameless as long as the police investigation is ongoing. For now, the situation remains fluid and in limbo.