The new interim principal, Jie Zhang, is a Chinese-born veteran teacher and administrator who most recently oversaw a network of schools that includes Stuyvesant. She’ll have to deal with the scandal’s aftermath, at least for now, starting with how to prevent future cheating. In a recent letter to Stuyvesant families, Zhang said all students and parents will now have to review and sign an “academic honesty policy.” She has also stepped up enforcement of the school system’s cell-phone ban, reportedly seizing seventeen phones in the first two days of classes. At least one teacher says those moves are not enough. “I hope this will be a chance for self-examination, of what high school should be and why we’re all here.” Less homework, a decreased focus on testing, curbs on competition have all been raised as possible reforms. But to accept any such change, Zhang—and whoever is chosen to lead the school long-term—will have to be convinced that a less cutthroat Stuyvesant is still Stuyvesant.
While many Stuyvesant parents are outraged by the scandal, some seem to think the school has been unfairly vilified. In terms of cheating, Stuyvesant “is no different from Horace Mann or Bronx Science,” one father says. Many of the students who were not implicated, meanwhile, feel betrayed by Nayeem and his confederates. “All the people I talked to said [Nayeem] deserved to be expelled,” says one student. “They said they were angry taking the tests knowing other people were cheating it.”
As for Harvard, the probe there is expected to continue well into the fall and perhaps even beyond, with each student’s situation being adjudicated individually. “It will take as long as it will take,” says Harvard spokesman Jeff Neal. “We are committed to ensuring the students involved have their due-process rights.” The Administrative Board at Harvard has wide latitude in formulating punishments. Depending on the proof and a student’s extenuating circumstances, he could receive informal admonishment, a mandatory redo, a failing grade on the test itself, a mark of no credit for the entire course, or even probation or a one-year suspension. According to a tipster e-mail to the IvyGate blog, the Ad Board has told at least some of the students who were involved that it will not take into consideration the “culture of collaboration” that supposedly existed in the course for many years when reaching its decisions.
As of this writing, Nayeem has been sitting out the start of the school year, not yet enrolling at another high school in hopes that the DOE will relent and allow him to return to Stuyvesant. He’s hopeful, but far from confident, that will happen. When he visited other schools with an eye toward transferring, Nayeem says, his heart sank. “I just wanted to stay at Stuy more. Now I realize, but before I didn’t—you’re so lucky to go to Stuy. You’re able to learn. In other schools, there are kids in school who are texting during the day while the teacher’s talking. There’s no learning. It would have been easier, but it wouldn’t have been what I wanted.”
When I ask him if he thinks he’d be able to handle the workload at Stuyvesant without cheating, he doesn’t hesitate. “I can definitely study my way out of it. Like, now that my future’s on the line.”
But he says he still wonders if maybe he could have gotten away with his cheating scheme if he spent more time organizing it, or put more locks on his phone. At times, it seems, he’s still trying to rationalize what he did. He says he didn’t think the Regents was as big a deal as the SAT. “I didn’t know I could have gotten kicked out of Stuy if I pulled this off. That was never made clear to me.”
This stops me. He cheated on not just one but three different Regents Exams, and he didn’t think that could get him kicked out of high school?
Nayeem squints. “I mean, like, I really didn’t think so.” Then he sits up straighter. “And now it’s like a second chance. It’s like a second chance that has a lot of dark clouds. It still has consequences, right? I was still suspended. I still won’t be able to go to a decent college. But hopefully I’ll be able to go somewhere. That’s what I’m worried about. Somewhere decent enough to work my way up into a career.”
“I want to be an investment banker.”