Crossing the line

Crossing the line

A cluster of students hurriedly gathers at Top Orange. Five days of tests, quizzes, and 80-minute lessons are over. Weekend plans are discussed and conversations are rife with rumors of a party, fueling students’ excitement.

However, as the evening approaches, texts messages are exchanged. The party’s Facebook page has been taken down. Suspicion rises.
“Has the party been canceled?” a student asks.

“Chodl found out,” another student responds.

Suspicion soon turns to anger, with many wondering what right, if any, the school has in getting involved in what happens in the privacy of students’ homes on the weekend.

Nick Canavan (’14) said that the administration has too much authority outside of school halls. “I’ve never been to a school where the administration gets involved in what we do outside of schools,” he said. Canavan has been at ASL from the start of his freshman year and it is the fifth school he has attended.

Regardless, Principal Paul Richards was keen to stress that Chodl never actually ‘cancels’ a party. “There’s no active policy from the school that says we’re going to try to cancel all house parties,” he said.

Likewise, Dean of Students Joe Chodl himself ia adamant about the extent of his involvement. “Whenever I hear about a party, I reach out to the parents of the party and call them just to voice some concern and to let them know that we have heard about it,” he said. “We have a partnership with parents to not hide information.”

Richards believes that these conversations are all part of the norm and should be taking place. “We have conversations all the time with families about concerns with behavior. Maybe it’s behavior in school, maybe it’s rumors we’ve heard about [the students] on the weekends,” he said. “If it’s anything that’s unsafe, we have an obligation to talk to parents and just say, ‘I don’t know what the truth is but these rumors are going around that your son totally lost control over the weekend,’ for example. Parents say ‘thank you,’ and we let them deal with it.”

A senior who had to cancel a party last year recalled her anger when her parents informed her that Chodl had contacted them. “My dad didn’t want me to put myself at a disadvantage because I was deeply involved in the school,” she said. “He didn’t want Chodl’s disapproval to affect any of the extracurricular activities that I was taking part in.”

The student says Chodl left her in the dark about what was going on. “I didn’t speak to [Chodl] in person, but my parents did. I wasn’t contacted by him at all while this was taking place,” she said.
She asked that her name not be used in this article because she is currently in the process of applying to university. “I don’t want any degree of what could have happened through my throwing the party to happen to me now,” she said. “I don’t want it to affect my application process or my standing with the administration.”

Erica Rawald (’14) was also not personally contacted by Chodl prior to throwing a house party for Halloween this year. Regardless, she feels that his influence in the High School is overwhelming. “Chodl is that kind of figure in the High School in everyone’s mind, and I don’t want to get in trouble with him,” she said. “But at the same time, we were not supplying [alcohol], we took proper precautions. He really shouldn’t be interfering with it.”

Another interviewee, a parent who canceled a house party last year, also condemned the school’s involvement in students’ personal lives. “I’m all for giving [students] freedom but at the same time I was scared of letting [the party] go on because I knew that if someone got too drunk or sick the school would be ringing my bell,” she said. “I would have been in so much trouble and my kids would have been expelled.” And out of fear for her childrens’ reputation with the administration, this parent asked that her name not be used in this article.

On the contrary, Chodl stressed that there are “no consequences” if a house party occurs despite his warning. He said that the administration could not punish the host students or their parents in any possible way.

The parent feels that the administration, who she referred to as a “dictatorship,” is not actually accomplishing anything by indirectly canceling house parties. “[Students] are just so eager to have a party. If there finally is one they feel like everything needs to happen in that one night,” she said. “You almost get a reverse situation where the four parties that you have are bound to go completely wrong and then there are no parties at all anymore.”
Unlike the usual method of the administration contacting the parents, this parent reached out to Chodl first due to an overwhelming amount of complaints from other parents, who she feels are too influential in the school community. “I think the school always tries to accommodate the parents that complain. There are a couple of parents who run the school and what they say goes,” she said.

Two years ago, parents joined a committee consisting Counselor Liane Thakur, Health Teacher Joy Marchese, members of the administration and High School students was formed to discuss the risks associated with alcohol consumption, especially at house parties. “We talked about when students would first encounter it and talked about how the school can be more helpful for parents when guiding them about our thoughts about alcohol,” Chodl said.

Rawald said that her father almost, like the aforementioned parent, contacted Chodl first, though his intentions differed greatly. “My dad was on the verge of calling Chodl himself and asking him, ‘How do you think you have any jurisdiction? This is something we do in our private home, with the proper precautions. We’re not supplying, we have bouncers, we’re doing the proper things. How do you think you can cancel it?’” she said.

Nonetheless, the stories of house parties gone wrong are all too familiar with Richards. “Debauchery, drinking, people passing out, unsafe sex, violence, some of the stuff that maybe happens on the periphery,” he said. “Those stories ricochet around the parent community and make a lot of people nervous.”

Chodl, who has been at ASL for 12 years, has seen it all, too. “My experiences with house parties and prom are different because I have a long knowledge of parties that have gone bad,” he said. “You go through High School once, I go through it every year. This is part of what I do and have been doing for many years.”

Additionally, Chodl, who estimated that he makes five to ten phone calls regarding house parties each year, said that his intentions have remained unchanged throughout his time at ASL. “I don’t do this to make your lives less fun, that is not my intention, and I take no pleasure from it,” he said. “But what we are trying to do is be thoughtful about where the school stands with the health, safety and welfare of our students.”

According to U.K. law, drinking is legal within a household from the age of five, with a parent’s consent. Even so, Chodl has concerns when the number of attendees reaches a less controllable level. “What you do in your own house is your decision, but when you add that 50 students might be there, with their parents’ permission or not, there is a chance that people are at risk,” he said.

Richards has similar concerns. “I have always been worried about house parties because I think you reach a tipping point where you lose control,” he said. “You can have 10, 15 of your close friends. There’s nothing wrong with that, assuming it’s social and without drugs and alcohol. 20, 30, 40 more people show up, some of them you know, some of them you don’t, it goes downhill pretty quickly. I’m not against get-togethers but keg parties with vast amounts of people… I’ve never seen those not be dangerous.”

However, if a house party is indeed cancelled, there it is no guarantee that drinking will not take place on the weekend. If anything, some students say that they may still gather in smaller groups and consume alcohol together with no greatly distracting opportunities for other activities occurring in the meanwhile. This can lead to drinking more than one usually would at a house party, where a dancefloor and a greater desire to mesh with other, lesser-known students are at play.

Canavan said that the cancellation of parties definitely leads to students drinking in an act of retaliation. “I actually think that some kids drink more if there isn’t a party to attend,” he said. “Instead of socializing at a party, they sit around and get drunk.”
The parent agreed with Canavan’s statement. “What I find is that there are no parties but, regardless, these kids find a house every week to sit down and drink.”

It should also be noted that, despite the administration’s stance against house parties, the cancellation is by no means a discouragement for students. Rather, the host student may act covertly, by foregoing the option of using a Facebook page to advertize the party and instead may send texts out on the night of the event. This method provides the administration with too little time to react and also means that they will not be able to obtain news of the party by means of a student informant, who would likely screenshot the Facebook page and email the image to a member of the administration.

Some students believe Chodl frequently monitors Facebook and Twitter in search of parties to cancel. “People always speculate about how he actually finds out about the parties,” Celia Mitchell (’15) said. “[Chodl] often reiterates how it’s not his place to [search Facebook] but, then again, he always finds out about things that happen on Facebook so most people think it’s definitely a factor.”
Chodl, though, was keen to express the contrary. “I don’t patrol Twitter or Facebook. If I did I would probably have nothing else to do because it would take me so much time,” he said. “Students will bring me information about parties often.”

For all that, Rawald still organized her house party via Facebook, citing difficulties with other methods that involved speaking on school grounds or using the school email system. “Other than spreading by ear, which is very complicated, the only other way [to invite people] was Paperless Post via Zimbra, which I feel would have involved ASL more,” she said. “Whereas Facebook… that’s supposed to be our private thing.”

mina_omar@asl.org
fares_chehabi@asl.org