Protest-related school policies need to change

Although it is important to acknowledge that even having a policy related to protests and rallies is a big deal, that does not mean that the administration should stop now.

Extracurricular+activities+cannot+be+placed+on+a+level+of+comparison+with+topics+like+racial+injustice%2C+climate+change%2C+women%E2%80%99s+rights+issues%2C+and+equality+for+the+LGBTQ%2B+community%2C+but+that+does+not+mean+that+they+do+not+matter+to+the+student+body.

Alison Browne

Extracurricular activities cannot be placed on a level of comparison with topics like racial injustice, climate change, women’s rights issues, and equality for the LGBTQ+ community, but that does not mean that they do not matter to the student body.

On Apr. 19, seniors Aman Rahman, Gavin Kimmel, Evelyn Lillemoe, and junior Ellie Murphy led members of the SPA community in participating in a statewide walkout against racial injustice sponsored by the @mnteenactivists page, which brought to light an issue that is not new for the upper school: the protest-related school policies need to be changed.

According to a recent email sent out to the student body by Dean of Students Chantal Thornberry, the current SPA policy states that “while [a] student would be allowed to return to class [after participating in a rally, walkout, or protest], they may not participate in after-school activities.” This aspect of the policy applies to every on-campus and off-campus event and has been debated since the Minnesota Climate strike last year. Much of the student body dropped out of the strike due to conflicts with schedules, such as sports games, practices, or other school-related commitments. Although this rule may have been put in place to ensure that students do not attend or lie about attending an event for the sole purpose of skipping their least favorite class, it does more harm than good due to it encouraging against protesting. Extracurricular activities cannot be placed on a level of comparison with topics like racial injustice, climate change, women’s rights issues, and equality for the LGBTQ+ community, but that does not mean that they do not matter to the student body. Creating an ultimatum between fighting for meaningful change or pursuing the responsibilities, passions, and commitments students dedicate to their extracurriculars is unreasonable. To say that the administration supports the student body’s interest in social change while punishing them even the smallest amount for acting on that is unfair.

Although this rule may have been put in place to ensure [honesty between students and admin], it does more harm than good due to it encouraging against protesting.”

In order to attend a rally, walkout, or protest, the administration requires students to complete a Google Form indicating the date and time frame in which they will be away from school/class as well as proof of a parent or guardian’s permission. Specifically, in the case of organized walkouts, the whole point of the event is disruption. It is often necessary to make a scene, inconvenience others, or do whatever is necessary to bring attention to an issue that matters to a community. The requirement of filling out a Google Form tells the student body that while the administration says they support the passion and dedication students bring to pressing issues, they must do it on the school’s terms or not do it at all. A disruption is no longer disruptive if everyone else is prepared for it. Protestors lose the element of surprise and shock, which is where much of the power of a walkout comes from.

Parental approval is an entirely different issue. SPA prides itself in empowering students to think as individuals. Although most high school students are minors, they have autonomy of their beliefs, values, and ideas, and making them get a guardian’s permission takes that away from them. Not only does it restrict a student’s ability to make their own decisions, but it also reinforces the notion that parents should influence their children’s views since they control if students are allowed to show up and support their beliefs in a substantial way. This decision is usually based on whether or not the parent or guardian personally agrees with the subject of a protest. Liability and safety concerns from the administration complicate the conversation as they are valid, but they are being used in a way that limits student freedom. There must be a better way to balance the school’s responsibility for the students during school hours or while they are on campus with providing freedom of expression that is less structured and controlled.

SPA’s mission statement is “shaping the minds and the hearts of the people who will change the world” but how can that ever be possible if students cannot engage in the world and some of its most pressing issues, conversations, and movements in a real and meaningful way? Creating change in the world should begin during a student’s time at SPA, not just after graduation. Making policies that better reflect community values and the desires of those who participate in rallies, protests and walkouts would allow the administration to support student activism and amplify their voices rather than silencing them.

Prior to last year, leaving school for a protest or strike was simply considered an unnecessary absence with no protocol for how to accommodate for missing a class or any support from the school in standing up for meaningful issues. Although it is important to acknowledge that even having a policy related to protests and rallies is a big deal, that does not mean that the administration should stop now. In order to show that they truly care and support the student body, they must listen to the genuine concerns and requests coming from the community. With time and effort put in, there is a possibility for a satisfying compromise, but it is up to the students to speak up and the administration to listen.

To express concerns and suggestions regarding these policies, contact the Upper School Council @[email protected] or reach out to the administration.