Penn Model Congress back on as administration finds ‘alternative consequences’

SUSPENDED: Debate team members at Princeton Model Congress last fall worked on their bills.  Misbehavior on that trip after curfew has resulted in an earlier curfew for the upcoming Penn trip, and practices have been suspended through Jan. 15.

Tamar Willis

SUSPENDED: Debate team members at Princeton Model Congress last fall worked on their bills. Misbehavior on that trip after curfew has resulted in an earlier curfew for the upcoming Penn trip, and practices have been suspended through Jan. 15.

Alexa Fishman, Community Editor

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






Reversing a decision made Dec. 5, the administration has decided to allow Shalhevet to compete at Penn Model Congress in March, despite the debate team’s admitted misbehavior in November on the Princeton Model Congress trip in Washington, D.C.

Head of School Rabbi Ari Segal and Principal Reb Noam Weissman cancelled the Penn trip because students had violated curfew and wrestled with each other, in a tradition called “fight club,” once the chaperones were asleep.

But debaters spent two weeks trying to convince them to find a different punishment, and Rabbi Segal and Reb Noam announced Dec. 22 that the trip was reinstated.

“We acknowledge that some important points were raised regarding the severity of the consequence being akin to cancelling an entire season, given that Model Congress is all or nothing,” said Rabbi Segal in an e-mail to the team sent via Schoology.  “This added context to the broader picture and caused us to reconsider our original consequence.”

The change of heart came after the students presented alternative punishments to the administration.  Parents and alumni had also gotten involved, according to student and alumni sources.

Then, during lunch on Dec. 19, debate team captain Sarah Soroudi met with the administration to try to find an alternative punishment. She suggested that boys and girls stay on separate floors of the hotel and that curfew be earlier.

“The administration had the right to punish us for our actions,” Sarah said in an interview.  “We are grateful that we can still attend Penn, and we hope to regain their trust.”

Instead of canceling the whole trip in March, the administration will make curfew earlier, permit students to enter only the rooms of Judaic chaperones and students of the same gender, and postpone any practices until Jan. 15.

According the Debate Coach Mr. Chris Buckley, there was always a chance that Rabbi Segal and Reb Noam would change their minds about the cancellation.

“They wanted the students to come forward with suggestions and alternative consequences,” said Mr. Buckley. “Rabbi Segal still thinks it was an egregious violation of the rule, but he feels that we can take preventative measures and proceed in a way that doesn’t totally destroy the program.”

Reb Noam refused to be interviewed about why he changed his mind, just as he had declined to discuss why he originally decided to cancel the trip.

“We don’t discuss discipline publicly,” said Reb Noam in an e-mail to a Boiling Point reporter.

Among those who protested the original decision were some parents and alumni. At least five alumni e-mailed Rabbi Segal expressing their disagreement, and parents called and complained as well, team members said.

In addition, on Tuesday, Dec. 17, a group of parents met with Rabbi Segal and Reb Noam at school, which may have added to the pressure.  One of the parents at that meeting was Jeff Rabin, father of debater Avishai Rabin.

“The punishment was too harsh in light of the nature of the violation,” said Mr. Rabin in an interview later. “I think a probationary period for the team is an appropriate consequence.”

Rabbi Segal needed to make his final decision by Sunday Dec. 22 because otherwise the team would have lost its spot in the Philadelphia conference.

According to Mr. Buckley, Shalhevet had already missed the deadline to sign up, but Penn agreed to wait to hear the administration’s decision before giving up Shalhevet’s spot because Shalhevet’s team is one of the highest-ranking teams to compete in the conference.

Related: Penn Model Congress trip off due to bad behavior on Princeton trip 

Related: Model Congress team brings home 13 awards from Princeton Conference 

Related: Novel solution to Shabbat problem propels Daniel Schwartz to become first-ever observant Jewish president of Penn Model Congress 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email