Wilton High School students are about to get a powerful lesson in the democratic concept of the voice of the people–more accurately, the power of their collective voice. Students have spoken out against the implementation of a new locked door policy, and they’ve been heard at the highest levels of the school administration, getting a sympathetic response at Thursday night’s Board of Education meeting from school superintendent Dr. Kevin Smith: “I want to apologize because I think we can do better in speaking to the students.”
A policy change was announced at the school last week in a letter from principal Bob O’Donnell introduced a new security booth at the school’s front entrance starting Monday, March 23. The letter explained that, “All visitors will now have to be buzzed into the school by the booth’s operator, after showing proper identification.” In addition, all exterior school doors would be locked during the school day–and students would no longer be permitted to cross Kristine Lilly Way between buildings by going outside. Instead they’d have to go via the second floor bridge.
Citing a school security plan and the need to provide the community with an “increased sense of safety and peace of mind,” O’Donnell wrote, “I realize that these measures will require some adjustments from members of the school community which we will assess and monitor.”
But adjusting hasn’t been easy for the students, who say they were unhappy with the resulting changes for several reasons. A Change.org petition started by a student at the school asking the administrators to allow students to walk outside under the bridge has already gotten more than 600 signatures (by press time). Many people who signed have expressed a desire to go outside into the fresh air, while others have proclaimed their liberties are being suppressed. Some have said that the bridge and stairwells are now crowded and hamper students from moving between classes with enough time. The subject has made its way onto social media and has been discussed by parents too, in a sign of this being more ‘serious’ than simply just a ‘high school thing.’
But at Thursday night’s Board of Education meeting, the situation suddenly got taken very seriously, in the best possible way. Endy Perry and Geoff Keating–two WHS seniors and members of the student governement–addressed the BoE members and administrators during the public comment section at the end of the meeting.
“We are here representing WHS Student Government. We understand this is a safety issue. Student safety is the number one issue and we appreciate you putting the value on that. The issue we feel came specifically from the communication standpoint–notice was given, an announcement was made in school. However it came at a time right in the middle of a marking period, the timing was not good, and it came from the administrators who, we understand didn’t have much say, but the students themselves didn’t understand why, that was the big thing,” Perry explained to the adults. “They thought it was administrators trying to stop us from having fun by going outside.”
Keating added that even though a letter was sent out that the change was being made, “there wasn’t so much of the explanation part. Kids are going to be more open to it if they see the reasoning why.”
He also suggested that administrators offer something as a consolation and ‘compensation’ for what was taken away. “It could be, ‘We’re going to let you sit outside the school for lunch.’ That wasn’t brought across, it was more, ‘This is happening.’ And right now it’s feeling like we’re closed in and locked off.”
What’s more, according to the boys, the policy seemed to both take away special privileges seniors have to leave campus during their free periods as well as lead to unfair penalties for some students who had a legitimate reason for going outside during the school day.
“With the new security booth, they were checking students as they came back in. I know friends who had a free period int he middle of the day, and went out to their car to get their project for their next class. When they came back in, their names were checked at the door and they received detention, for going out to their car,” Perry related. “Again, the issue is communication.”
Board members seemed impressed by the calm, mature way the students presented their case. “Whatever the BoE could do to help specifically, to make the students aware of how this came about and helping the administration convey the reasons for why this happened and the reasons for safety. In our opinion, that goes a long way,” Perry said.
Some board members expressed surprise at why the policy change had not been communicated to students until the very last moment, especially as they had voted on the policy change and implementation of the security booth a year earlier.
In addition, Perry told GOOD Morning Wilton, student behavior resulting from the new procedures was actually a potential security risk: “Students are worried they’ll get in trouble when they were coming back to school. In some cases they would call their friends [who] would open up an outside door for them. That would completely break down the chain of security and eliminate the need for the booth. We worry for the safety just from kids getting other kids to open a door for them.”
Superintendent Smith told the students how proud he was of them for coming to the BoE meeting and speaking to the board, and that he would work to improve the situation with the students in the high school.
“I appreciate how you framed the concern, and I do think there has been a sense of a loss of freedom as a result of making some changes that have been implemented. The plans for the booth have been known among some–maybe not the students. I believe the board approved the construction of that booth a year ago, so again that affirmed for me that as a group of administrators we can do a better job, especially with you all at the high school. You have my commitment in working with you all on that,” Smith said.