Student chants and yells pierce the air at a nation-wide walkout. Investigative reports spread quickly in school publications. Students exchange terse words over policy on the Innovative Schedule Committee. Palo Alto High School students are not afraid to use their voice, but is anybody listening?
After the youth activism of the ‘60s, students’ rights have been on the rise as youth advocate for greater decision-making power in schools. In a district immersed in controversy, students have spoken up. With all the different institutions created to invite student participation, it is important to evaluate what role students play, and how much they can really do at Paly.
Associated Student Body
While ASB no longer has the power to issue student punishments, as it once did, members say they still have a say at Paly.
“I feel like my voice is represented for many different areas,”
— Zoe Silver, Junior Class President
“I feel like my voice is represented for many different areas,” junior class president Zoe Silver says. “I think the main area is in student life and stuff like that.”
Keeping in mind the platform she has as president, Silver says she always tries to represent the entire junior student body.
“I try to also have our class’s — grade’s — thoughts in mind when I’m talking,” she said. “What do I think … will satisfy the most amount of people?”
Furthermore, Silver says she appreciates the consistent communication between ASB and the administration. Administrators often visit ASB to have conversations about students’ concerns, she said. For example, ASB recently discussed the problem of students vaping in school bathrooms with Supt. Don Austin and Principal Adam Paulson.
“We made plans to reconnect in the future, and they’re going to take our ideas up … implementing education [on the consequences of e-cigarettes] into Living Skills … maybe in biology class … and having posters in the bathrooms,” Silver says.
She says she is grateful for the opportunities our school district and administration have given students to not only voice their opinions, but also to meaningfully impact decisions.
Council in command
The Site Council is a committee of staff, parents and students who oversee the budget and form the School Plan, a document that details Paly’s priorities and goals. The body also commands a budget of around $20,000 to $25,000, according to Medha Atla, the sophomore Site Council Representative.
“[Site Council] is more feedback to different departments, because they’re all collected at one time, so we usually talk to each other about what we can do better to improve generally,” Ashutosh Bhown, the Senior Site Council Rep., says. “Things that would have to be carried out are usually done by ASB or the administration, but we still have our own capability to do that if need be.”
Atla approves of how the committee functions, but has a goal to encourage students to get more involved with the operations of the Council.
“When I was getting interviewed [for the position], I said I wanted more people to know about what goes on at Site Council, being more transparent about what goes on and I want us to get more suggestions in [from students],” Atla says.
Student on board
Caroline Furrier, a senior and student representative on the Board of Education, has been exploring the ways she can influence the district. While her position has a vote that only expresses her opinion, she has found other methods of getting her message across.
Furrier says that since her position is not elected, she has the freedom to express things that board members cannot due to political risk.
“I’m not campaigning the next year, I don’t have to be wary about who I’m trying to please.”
— Caroline Furrier, Student Representative on the Board of Education
“There is a political sense behind the school board, because they can’t just say immediately what they feel,” Furrier says. “A student position has less pressure to be political, and because I’m not campaigning the next year, I don’t have to be wary about who I’m trying to please.”
Some advocate for the position to have a functional vote, but Furrier thinks they have adequate power already.
“I think that a student preferential vote already puts pressure on board members to vote in the reason of student opinions,” Furrier says. “[That] gives students a lot of voice and power on the board.”
When it was announced in 2017 that Paly’s bell schedule was in violation of state requirements, the administration formed the Innovative Schedule Committee. The group, comprised of students, staff and parents, was tasked with creating a new, compliant schedule.
“I thought [former Principal Kim] Diorio’s administration did an excellent job in terms of the schedule committee and hearing student voice,” says David Foster, former member of the committee.
However, Foster says this changed over the summer. When an auditor found the schedule violated state standards, decisions had to be made very quickly. While he recognizes that it would have been difficult to assemble the body right before school began, Foster says the committee should still have been consulted.
“The entire committee was not told, it was just the principal, administration and a few select teachers. That is where I think student voice could have been useful,”
— David Foster, Former member of Bell Schedule Committee
“The entire committee was not told, it was just the principal, administration and a few select teachers. That is where I think student voice could have been useful,” Foster says. “Although they say it was due to the lack of time, which I understand, but I still think things could have been done.”
Senior Maurice Wang, another former member of the committee, was similarly alarmed by the change.
According to Wang, the committee process is decent, but they should be more institutionalized with ASB.
“ASB is a thing. Have them do more important stuff,” Wang says. “We have this pool of people who are capable, have a third period dedicated to this. Have them serve on committees, have committees meet.”
Despite its end, Foster says the amount of student input and the way students had equal power is “unprecedented [compared to] most schools.”