NHS conflict begins discussions on future process

FRONTPAGEPICnewCorrection: In the box labelled “NHS by the numbers” there two statistical errors that have been corrected. First, the box originally stated that members must have “0 dean referrals or athletic/activity” and is now changed to “0 serious dean referrals or athletic/activity code violations”. That statistic may have been misleading. For instance, more than 20 of the current senior members had deans code violations when we accepted them.  Most of these were for something relatively minor, such as one violation for excessive tardiness, or a dress code violation. Second, the box originally stated that last year “200 applications were sent to juniors and seniors and 141 applications were completed and returned” which is incorrect. Last year, 305 applications were sent out, 200 were returned, and 141 were actually accepted as candidates for membership.


At 7:15 a.m. on Nov. 4, students and sponsors began to trickle into the monthly National Honor Society meeting. In the front of the room, the four senior officers stood whispering amongst themselves. Sponsors Lois Graham and Gunde Iwersen-Burritt stood to the side, shuffling papers and folding their hands. Usually these meetings begin promptly whether all the sponsors and students have arrived or not, but this time students conversed with each other, examined their service points and stared at the clock as it turned to 7:30. Tensions ran high until finally, at nearly 7:35, the third sponsor, Missy Carlson, arrived and the meeting began. In what was supposed to be a routine meeting, all three sponsors announced their resignation from the program.

The sponsors explained that they felt as though they could no longer uphold high moral and ethical principles, which they believed NHS stood for. The resignation was the product of ongoing issues dating back to the beginning of October.

In early October, a teacher let the sponsors know that an NHS student applicant had an athletic/activity code violation that had not been reported to the sponsors. According to the DGN National Honor Society by-laws, school and athletic code violations go hand in hand in terms of evaluating an applicant’s character.

When the sponsors contacted the NHS national office, officials reiterated the point that it would be unfair to deny or accept any students given the lack of information needed to review applicants.

When sponsors asked for records of athletic/activity code violations, athletic director Denise Kavanagh and activities director associate principal Kristin Bormann met individually with sponsors.

There was not agreement as to how information should be shared.

Lack of records halts admissions process

“[The officers] weren’t told right away why that was happening, we were just told there was a hold on the process,” NHS president senior Ben Tobias said.

Tobias estimated that this occurred right around Oct. 1.

“They were like, ‘okay, well somebody has told us that a [student applicant] may have a code violation that we didn’t know about.’ So we didn’t want to make any judgements on any [student applicants] until we knew all of the possible violations,” Tobias said.

The sponsors met with Principal Scott Kasik twice during the two week interruption in the process, as well as other administrators. The faculty committee had also requested the information on the possible code violations, but the administration did not comply at the time of those requests.

“That resulted in the exact same thing — no progress was made — and then [the sponsors] decided that their only ethical course of action was to resign,” Tobias said.

Lack of communication from administration and sponsors makes some parents disgruntled

On Nov. 9, Tobias, on behalf of all four senior officers, sent out an email clarification to address questions that students and parents may have had. It explicitly cited a problem in receiving athletic/activity violations from administration and the sponsors’ reason for resignation.

However, the administration has stated that there was no issue with information sharing.

What we believed to be pertinent information was always being shared. It’s more about the process of how that was happening. It was always my intention to have [open communication between the administration and sponsors] occur,” Kasik said.

Kasik stressed that this issue was always about how information was being shared rather than whether it would be shared particularly as it relates to confidentiality issues.

That week, over twenty parents attended the Nov. 12 Parents’ Club meeting, double the usual amount. One of these parents was parent Dr. Barb Webster, who took the opportunity to ask about the NHS situation.

“My questions and those of the other parents were not satisfactorily answered.  We were repeatedly told, ‘I cannot comment on personnel issues’ and ‘there is no problem with the Athletic Department.’” Webster said. “The school administration should have communicated with parents and students right from the start.”

In the meeting, Kasik specified that the reason for the sponsors’ resignation was an internal issue that had to remain an internal issue per school policy. But, he assured parents that NHS would continue to maintain the same integrity and high standards it always has.

“The future of NHS was never in doubt. I believe it’s an important program and I know that it’s a meaningful opportunity for students,” Kasik said.

Many of the parents, such as parent Alice Doro, were familiar with the sponsors and the program having had former DGN students who were members of NHS.

“I have a great deal of respect for these teachers and did not understand what would have caused this drastic response [the resignation],” said Doro.

However, with no information on who the future sponsors would be, when exactly their students would be notified of their candidacy status, or any confirmation why there was even an issue, some parents left the meeting disgruntled.

“Many of us [parents] wanted to know why the sponsoring teachers were not given access to the information they requested from the athletic department and the deans. How else are they to fully evaluate the character  and conduct of the students?” Webster said.

Sponsors, administration find common ground– settle

In the two weeks after their resignation, students were left with very little information aside from two short emails from associate principal Kristin Bormann.

On Nov. 16, Bormann notified students via email that the same sponsors would continue to head NHS and that all issues were resolved.

“Nothing has changed in that we are continuing to work together to support the program in the best way possible. If you would have asked me what my goal was with this program in August, I would have told you that, and that is the same today,” Bormann said in an Omega interview.

Administration attributes the successful continuation of the program to the in-depth conversations between the sponsors and administration.

“Like anything we do at this school, we are best served by periodically reviewing our process,” Kasik said. “Reviewing our process doesn’t necessarily mean the process will change. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s important to look at, and I don’t think it has been for a while.”

The sponsors could not comment on the specific details of the resolution.

“I’m sure our sponsors would only rejoin an ethically sound organization,” Tobias said.

The date by which student applicants will be notified of their candidacy is still to be determined, but the sponsors and officers are continuing to compile the final information for the faculty committee to consider per NHS guidelines.

“In the past and for the longest time the sponsors before us never sent out letters to juniors until the week of Thanksgiving. So, technically, we’re not behind schedule in terms of getting letters out,” Graham said.

Administration and the sponsors are optimistic for the future for NHS. They’ve agreed to meet again in the spring to plan for next year.

“I think this is a situation where adults who are well meaning and all want the best for the NHS can have different viewpoints and disagreements about certain issues, and when all is said and done we’re all committed to maintaining the integrity of NHS,” Kasik said.


Rachel Krusenoski | Editor-in-Chief
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Michael Rivera | Opinion Editor
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