Two and a half years after their son was killed following an altercation in the Lauinger Library parking lot, the parents of David Shick have made public for the first time the results of Georgetown’s disciplinary hearings into the dispute.

According to the findings of the university’s hearing board, the Georgetown student who allegedly punched Shick in the face in the early morning hours of Feb. 18, 2000 was found guilty of category C physical assault (assault with bodily injury), category B disorderly conduct (actions that could harm others) and a category A violation of the alcohol policy (underage consumption), as defined by the Georgetown Student Code of Conduct. Allegedly, Shick fell from the force of the blow and hit his head on the pavement, dying of his injuries four days later. His death was ruled a homicide by the D.C. medical examiner.

The hearing board’s decision, reached in August 2000, sentenced the student in question to a one-semester suspension and required him to write a 10-page reflection paper and attend alcohol counseling. After the student appealed the decision, an appeals board reduced the sanctions in November 2000, giving him a “suspended suspension” conditioned upon his completion of the two other sanctions. The altered suspension sentence is effectively equivalent to an official warning.

Ultimately, the student was allowed to remain a full-time student at Georgetown, participate in extracurricular activities and graduate with the rest of his class. The other students involved in the confrontation received sanctions of ten to 12 hours of community service.

The hearing was not a criminal or judicial procedure. In June of that year, the U.S. Attorney’s office did not press charges in the case because it said in a press release that month that it did not believe there was a “reasonable likelihood of obtaining a conviction.”

David’s parents, Jeff and Debbie Shick, obtained the results of the hearing board’s inquiry in November 2001 after settling a wrongful death lawsuit against the student in question. They said they decided to release the board’s findings to the national press after hearing about a recent assault of a Georgetown student by another student over Homecoming weekend and the rape last year of a Georgetown student, also by a fellow undergraduate.

“It’s happening all over again,” Mrs. Shick said. “It’s exactly what we went through. If we don’t learn from our past mistakes, we’re not going to be able to change them in the future.”

The university did not allow the Shicks to learn the hearing board’s findings when it originally reached a decision, citing the 1974 Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, the family said. When the Shicks looked into the stipulations of the federal law, they said they found that the legislation in fact allowed – although it does not require – universities to release such information.

It turned out that Georgetown’s policy, the Disclosure of Adjudication Outcome Policy in the Student Code of Conduct, actually prohibited the Shicks from learning the hearing results. The only way the parents could have access to that information, according to the policy, was to sign a non-disclosure agreement that would have prohibited them from sharing the findings with anyone else, including Shick’s younger siblings.

“The university’s disciplinary system recognizes the difficult and sensitive nature that individual situations may present by guaranteeing all students a promise of confidentiality,” Assistant Vice President of Communication Julie Green Bataille said in a written statement. “At the express request of a student and consistent with our policy and FERPA, the university provided Mr. and Mrs. Shick some otherwise confidential information that pertained to that student . Consistent with our policy, the university has not and will not publicly release information on these proceedings.”

The Shicks refused to sign the agreement and filed a civil lawsuit against the student in question in February 2001. In the subsequent settlement, the student in question allowed the university to release its disciplinary findings to the Shick family and permitted the family to share the information publicly, provided the defendant’s name was withheld. It was then that the Shicks learned that there had been an appeals process and that the original sanctions had been reduced. The university had never informed them that an appeal had been made.

“We were told – and naively believed – that Georgetown would handle this,” Mrs. Shick said. “I haven’t even really gotten to the grieving process yet . because of all we’ve had to go through. It’s been a very difficult two and a half years. We’ve lost our son, we’ve lost two and a half years of our lives trying to get this information . a family shouldn’t have to go through this stuff.”

In the university disciplinary procedure, the Shicks had asked to be complainants themselves, but said the university denied their request. In cases where the victim cannot represent himself or herself, Georgetown policy does not permit any other party but the university itself to act as the complainant, according to Green Bataille.

The 1998 Higher Education Amendments to FERPA stipulates, “Postsecondary institutions may disclose the final results of any disciplinary proceeding for a crime of violence or nonforcible sex offense to anyone, including members of the general public, if the institution determines that the student committed a violation of its rules or policies with respect to the crime.”

The law currently leaves room for Georgetown’s privacy policy, which specifically prohibits the release of disciplinary information without a non-disclosure form.

Green Bataille noted that Georgetown’s Disciplinary Review Committee had looked into Georgetown’s disclosure policy in student disciplinary proceedings and had spoken with parties from “all perspectives” in campus-wide meetings held during the 2000-01 school year.

“Consistent with the DRC’s recommendations, the university decided to both maintain the confidentiality of individual outcomes, even in those cases in which FERPA would permit public disclosure by the University,” Green Bataille said in her statement. She added that Georgetown also intended to provide more information to the community about adjudicated offenses and sanctions in a twice-yearly newsletter. “We continue to believe that maintaining the confidentiality of student conduct proceedings and outcomes best serves our educational mission.”

Georgetown also initially tried to prevent the Shicks from attending the hearing board procedures. “We had to fight even to be able to attend the hearing,” Mrs. Shick said. Having secured the right to attend the proceedings, Mr. and Mrs. Shick remembered being impressed by the thoroughness of the board, which consisted of two Georgetown faculty members and three Georgetown students.

“I was amazed at the way the students on the hearing board tore [the defendants’ statements] apart,” Mr. Shick said. He noted that board members at certain points challenged the defendants to act out how what they said they did during the altercation; in some instances, he said, the defendants’ claimed actions were shown to be nearly physically impossible.

The hearing centered on determining the roles played by the student in question and four others in the fatal incident of February 2000. The hearing found that on the night in question, Shick was among two groups of students returning home from Champion’s, a now-closed local bar. A fight broke out between the two groups and one of the students punched Shick in the jaw, causing him to hit his head on the pavement near the driveway of the Lauinger Library parking lot that leads out to Prospect Street, the Shicks said. According to witness reports, the students involved in the incident fled the scene immediately, leaving a few members from the original groups and a number of passersby who arrived to help (THE HOYA, “Junior Dies After Incident,” Feb. 25, 2000; “GU Completes Inquiry Into Shick Death,” Aug. 2, 2000).

The student in question, as well as two others, retained lawyers immediately after the incident. Nevertheless, the hearing board in its initial ruling pointedly criticized the defense of the student in question.

“The board was troubled by your repeated assertion that you had `no choice’ and your failure to accept any responsibility for your part in the altercation,” reads the board’s decision. “The board felt that the record evidence . clearly and convincingly established that you had physical contact with David Shick, that that contact was intentional and that it cause physical injury to Mr. Shick. Your contention that you acted in self-dense to protect yourself against painful kicking by Mr. Shick was neither corroborated nor, in the board’s view, credible. Your demeanor, your description of the events and the absence of any resultant injury to you all undercut the veracity of your explanation,” the board’s decision said.

The board also expressed concern about the role alcohol played in the altercation, advising the student in question to “think seriously” about how intoxication affected his actions that night.

The decision also delineated the sanctions for the student, which included the original punishment of suspension for the Fall 2000 semester.

The student, however, appealed the board’s decision. The appeals board consists of one Georgetown faculty member or administrator, one Georgetown dean (appointed on a rotating basis) and two Georgetown students. According to the Student Code of Conduct, a student can appeal the initial decision on three grounds: “substantial procedural error,”new evidence of a substantive nature not available at the time of the original decision” and “substantial disproportionate sanction.”

In the case of the student in question vs. the Office of Student Conduct, the board rejected the defendant’s arguments on the first two points. But it found “greater merit” in the third claim, according to an explanatory letter to the defendant, dated Nov. 16, 2000, citing his lack of a previous disciplinary record and the “range of sanctions previously imposed for like violations.”

While it approved the hearing board’s findings of responsibility, the appeals board reduced the student in question’s original sanctions to suspended suspension through ay 2001 and disciplinary probation through Fall 2001 “allowing for co-curricular participation.”

The decision deeply troubled the Shicks when they eventually heard about it.

“`Like violations?'” Mr. Shick said. “Do they mean something like this has happened before? It makes me wonder what someone would have to do to actually invoke a suspension or expulsion by the university.”

The Shicks are currently fighting to get Congress to add an amendment to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Green Bataille noted that Georgetown’s Disciplinary Review Committee had looked into Georgetown’s disclosure policy in student disciplinary proceedings and had spoken with parties from “all perspectives” in campus-wide meetings held during the 2000-01 school year.

“Consistent with the DRC’s recommendations, the university decided to both maintain the confidentiality of individual outcomes, even in those cases in which FERPA would permit public disclosure by the University,” Green Bataille said in her statement. She added that Georgetown also intended to provide more information to the community about adjudicated offenses and sanctions in a twice-yearly newsletter. “We continue to believe that maintaining the confidentiality of student conduct proceedings and outcomes best serves our educational mission.”

“Perhaps if this information had been made public sooner, changes to the disciplinary process would have been demanded by this community,” the Shicks said in their press release, adding that that may have discouraged the more recent violent incidents that occurred on Georgetown’s campus. “It is time to hold a student publicly accountable for his actions when found responsible for a violent crime.”

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