Issued in 2016, the national anti-grafting law was intended to level the playing field in organizations such as schools, companies, and even the government by uprooting instances of bribery and corruption. For the most part, it seems to be serving its purpose faithfully at SIS. As teachers have noted, parents have generally ceased offering gifts to them this year; in other words, the anti-grafting law seems to be a potent deterrent of potentially inappropriate gift giving. Unfortunately, this efficacy does not necessarily entail comprehensive success.
Even the most effective laws can inspire serious unintended consequences, and the anti-grafting law has been no exception. In the past year or so, we have learned as a community that student-teacher relationships can be monetarily characterized in more ways than one. For example, say a kindergarten student brings in birthday cupcakes for the entire class and the teacher takes a bite: has the teacher committed a moral transgression? What if an advisor decided to take a handful of snacks at a party hosted by his or her club? What about a bouquet, or a card, or an event invitation?
We raised these questions as a newspaper when the policy was first proposed; to this day, the answers have been confusing and varied. At first, the principal’s office was provided with an official entertainment budget, which was used, for example, to purchase bouquets gifted to conductors at the end of music department concerts. But later in the year, sports teams ran into conflicts trying to buy bouquets for their coaches, which they had hoped to present at their end-of-season assemblies. In some cases, Dr. Gerhard, high school principal, could personally come to the aid of such students by subsidizing meaningful and appropriate activities. Unfortunately, there is a limit to which individuals can cover for systematic defects—and holes that go unaddressed often decay into morally grey areas. Take, for example, Prom: a farewell party celebrating the senior class that has traditionally been attended by all departing teachers and those who were especially close with the graduates. This year, however, the HSSC was instructed to disinvite all teachers at the last minute in order to meet certain anti-grafting standards. According to David Yoo (11), junior council vice president, though multiple compromises were proposed (including providing teachers tickets at a discount), none were deemed satisfactory due to complexities associated with the law.
Of course, we do not seek to contend the fact that we as citizens must obey the law. The anti-grafting law serves an honorable and reasonable purpose—still, we could be fairer, sharper, smarter, and clearer in how we implement it.
To be clear, this is not exactly an issue of dereliction or malice, but rather one of infrastructure. A building erected on a weak skeleton will inevitably lean to one side, putting excessive pressure on sensitive points. Likewise, attempting to construct a building without a thorough blueprint can prove to be a dangerous. Trying to uphold policies without a clear and straightforward system of execution can shift an unfair, arbitrary share of responsibility on certain individuals. Because the official anti-grafting law explains little about student-teacher interactions in a private school setting, much of the groundwork must be set on our own and collective problem solving is a must.
When doing so, it is critical to remember that teacher participation in student-hosted events or modest gifts from students that show a collective appreciation for their teachers can strengthen student-teacher bonds, if approached with care and tact. Especially as we approach the end of the year and prepare to send off beloved members of our community, the administration, leadership team, student body, and staff should come together to set in stone some key policy elements. Which gifts or activities will be officially subsidized – if at all – and who will subsidize them? Will there be monetary caps or limits on frequencies? What should the application process look like? Who should have access to these subsidies?
At the end of the day, the leadership team, administration, student body, and faculty all desire the same thing: to create responsible, productive relationships and bonds within the school community. However, like all good parents know, rules need to be clear to be followed: the school would do best to implement concrete guidelines in order to successfully enforce the anti-grafting law.