What to do when a friend is suspected of cheating

The Dilemma

Thomas and Demarcus might as well be twins. They like the same sports, wear the same style of clothes and follow the same obscure alt-country bands that nobody else at Richards High School has heard of. They even carry identical red backpacks around school — and that causes a big problem when
their backpacks get mixed up after chemistry class.

The next period, in study hall, Demarcus reaches into what he thinks is his own backpack for his notes on next week’s chemistry test. This test has filled him — and most of his fellow students — with dread.

But instead of his notes, he pulls out a copy of the test, complete with the answers filled in. After a moment of shock, he wonders if Thomas got the answers from his older sister,
who took the class last year. Then he wonders if the answers are right and if he should copy them down. Then he wonders about the right thing to do.

For Discussion

Invite your youth to brainstorm a list of actions Demarcus could take. Emphasize there are no right or wrong answers at this point. Suggest these ideas if they don’t come up:

  • Demarcus could do nothing and simply return Thomas’ backpack after school.
  • Demarcus could make a copy of the answers before swapping backpacks.
  • Demarcus could destroy the answer sheet and pretend he never saw it.
  • Demarcus could tell Thomas what he found and put the responsibility on him to do the right thing.
  • Demarcus could report what he found to the chemistry teacher or a school administrator.

Give the group 10 or 15 minutes to discuss the possible actions and eliminate any that are not ethical. At the end of that time, invite them to explain why they feel the remaining actions are ethical. Next, have them choose the one action that would cause the least harm to Thomas, to Thomas’ and Demarcus’ friendship, and to the school community.

Finally, discuss the following statements. Does considering them change the group’s decision? How and why?

  • Demarcus doesn’t know for sure that what he found is a copy of next week’s test.
  • In looking at the copy he found, Demarcus inadvertently saw several test answers, which he can’t unremember.
  • Demarcus knows Thomas is at risk of flunking chemistry, which would jeopardize his chance to graduate this year.

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