Mar 25 2018

Piedmont High School Students Were Marked with an Unexcused Absence When They Joined Protest Against School Violence   

On March 14th, 2018, the Piedmont School Board met to discuss issues related to the protests that occurred the same day in schools across the Piedmont community. The protests and student gatherings were a response to the violent events that transpired on February 14th, 2018 in Parkland Florida. Schools across the nation planned demonstrations protesting gun laws and honoring the 17 victims of the shooting.

On the proposal for the School Safety and Gun Violence Resolution 12-2017-2018, members of the Board spoke on the need to establish and perform further background checks as well as banning certain classes of firearms, to ensure the safety of students and the Piedmont community as a whole. In addition, the Board spoke on creating additional funding for the implementation of counselors and taking measures against bullying. An agreement was unanimously reached and Resolution 12-2017-2018 was approved and prepared to be sent to representatives.

Board Member Cory Smegal addressed the issue of absences for the day as many Middle and High School students skipped class to protest. Unlike middle schoolers, high schoolers at Piedmont High School were marked down with an unexcused absence.

Superintendent Randall Booker spoke to this, stating that the High School event was “student led” and made up of student leaders. In contrast, the Middle School protest was organized by the staff. For reasons of security and liability, Booker stated that although he and the Board gave their full support to students exercising their rights to free speech, they could not excuse high schoolers as students had organized the event independently from the school.

Teachers and school staff had made it clear that they were going to mark protesting students with an unexcused absence but would offer accommodation for make ups. Students should not be too worried about these absences as they are common practices when there are walkouts and protests.

Last year, I participated in Piedmont/Oakland walkout protesting the election. We were gone for an entire class period but teachers were very open to making accommodations or opportunities to make up missing work. Students’ walkouts and protests are important ways we can make ourselves heard and are necessary despite the consequences.

On the matter of free speech, members of the Board discussed the importance of students expressing their voices. This was “not a movement of disobedience [but rather] a movement of solidarity.”  The Board recognized that the High School Lie-in was not designed to be a political protest but rather an event mourning the tragic events of the Parkland shooting. High school student leaders had also organized more politically minded events during lunch the week of the 14th.

The School Board also spoke on the issue of lighting at Witter Field. PUSD Director of Alternative and Adult Education proposed the implementation of 42 light fixtures replacing the 72 light fixtures on Witter Field. This new system would provide better lighting quality, would be more energy efficient and would reduce the amount of light pollution. The Board unanimously approved the implementation of the project during the summer and the Piedmont community can expect improved lighting as soon as Fall 2018.

The School District is facing a problem where students during lunch are using the Main Park as a lunch spot but rarely clean up, leaving trash and food. I spoke to Ms Levenson, Piedmont High’s librarian who told me even the police have gotten involved, passing out littering fines to students who don’t pick up after themselves. The School Board spoke of various repercussions this could have and the possibility of closing the campus at lunch time.

by Thomas Poppas, Piedmont High School Senior

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.

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