Individual circumstances should be factored in consequences

Ishani Singh

Very few students at MVHS genuinely uphold academic integrity. Whether it be sending homework to each other, inquiring about the contents of tests or flat-out plagiarism, it’s all one thing: cheating. The question is whether these varying extents should be penalized in the same way.
Throughout my high school career, I’ve tried my best to uphold my integrity. I correct teachers when they’ve accidentally given me a grade too high; I’ve admitted to not doing homework as opposed to copying it. At the same time, I know almost every single one of my counterparts cannot say the same about their own actions.
One day, however, I had a lapse in my ethics. My dad was on a business trip, my sister was in college and my mom terribly sick. I spent the entire evening taking care of her and the entire night unable to concentrate with all the coughing and sneezing. The next day at school, I realized I had forgotten my homework and quickly began scribbling my partner’s work down. Unlike many of my fortunate peers, I was caught by the teacher. It was one of the worst experiences of my life.
I don’t condone cheating or academic dishonesty in any way, but I think it’s crucial that teachers or administrators take into consideration the different circumstances each student is under. That day, all I could focus on was fulfilling my duties as a daughter, yet I was spoken to by the teacher as a criminal in the classroom: looked down on, disgusting. Though it didn’t go on my permanent record, it very well could have. Things like this have the potential to ruin students’ academic futures, or at the very least inhibit them.
In many cases, people are just too lazy to do the work, and those people truly deserve to be punished. But for the few who have legitimate reasons for being unable to, they deserve the benefit of the doubt, though they rarely receive it. Many teachers write up referrals or give automatic zeros on the assignment. It doesn’t matter what drove the student to that point, all that matters is inflicting punishment. Life isn’t black and white. There is no such thing as good or bad, and we can’t label students as ethical or unethical based on lapses in judgment. When students try to justify, teachers call it giving excuses and dismiss them without a second thought. Every possible factor should be taken into consideration when determining the consequences of cheating.
This doesn’t just go for homework and assignments, which can easily be remedied by late passes or extensions. How often are students caught cheating on tests without being given the benefit of the doubt? It’s taboo to even speak of, let alone indulge. It is so rare that a teacher takes the time to inquire why a student is doing what they are doing. Students get shoved into these high pressure atmospheres, and when they succumb to the pressure by cheating, potentially with some kind of reason, they are treated like felons in the classroom.
It isn’t just about what goes on the permanent record. Students caught for cheating are looked down upon by their teachers, their peers and even themselves. The thought of a one-time slip-up ruining their academic records is a deep psychological burden. If teachers can find a way to forgive, or at least understand the students, maybe students will begin doing the same for themselves rather than being filled with self-loathe over a mere mistake.
If teachers spent a little more time understanding the crime, the punishment may not have to be so severe. Whether this be getting off with a warning or simply redoing the assignment or test, these kinds of things show students that their teachers are on their sides.
Cheating is in absolutely no way excusable, but if we dig a little deeper, though they may be few and far between, we may discover students with a lot more going on who don’t deserve to be labeled unethical whether it be in record or in perception; with consequences dependent on the circumstances, we could potentially change someone’s life forever, both by averting unfair punishments that could ruin their careers, as well as teaching them the gift of empathy.