More than 50 students at Kodiak High School participated in a sit-in protest Friday morning. During second period students lined the hallway outside the office in what they called a nonviolent protest of the high school’s attendance policies.
Senior Stephanie Price said a number of students had voiced concerns this year about the school’s attendance policy, specifically the administering of in-school suspensions, or ISS, after a certain number of unexcused absences. She admitted that some of the information leading up to Friday’s protest wasn’t accurate on the students’ part, but still felt the protest was beneficial in promoting better communication with the high school’s administration.
“I think the protest in general was a learning experience for both the students and the teachers. I think the students realized that we should be more prepared when trying to make a point. And we had valid points but a lot of things were brought up that weren’t really involved with the ISS rule. And I think that from the administration point, they see that communication with the students – proper communication, just really friendly – is really all we want.”
Chris Aguirre is the new principal at KHS this year and said the students definitely made their voice very clear during the sit in and explained some the school’s policy regarding attendance and ISS.
“Well right now we’re looking at five days of unexcused absences and we are back in, in-school suspension, and that’s at a half day. And then it escalates at the 10 marker because at the 15-day there is a potential that a student might lose academic credit.”
The student handbook at the high school has a two-tiered approach to absences. An excused absence means a parent has called in to excuse the student for various reasons, or the student missed class due to some school-related activity. An unexcused absence is unexplained or not approved by a parent or teacher. If an absence is excused, students should have the ability to make up any work missed during that day in an appropriate time frame. However, Aguirre said the excused part does not actually stop the tallying of the total number of absences that could lead to an ISS.
“I sat after the student demonstration with a group of students and they explained to me the various reasons why this is really causing trouble. There are all kinds of I would say very valid reasons to be missing school – a lot of them health related. And we have plenty of families that need their kid to help out certain times of the year. And working toward I would say a solution toward where nobody loses credit and we find ways to demonstrate understanding is really what I think a good policy should do and where we’re trying to shape ours. And that’s what we’re trying to get done.”
KHS senior Christina Leithead was one of the students that met with Aguirre following the sit in and said it was a productive conversation where a lot of misconceptions were cleared up regarding the student handbook.
“Honestly I’ve never spoken to the principal before that and I got to know a little bit more about our principal, I got to know how he stands with things and he did agree with most of the things and told us bluntly, this is a valid reason, that is not a valid reason. And then he would tell us from his point of view as a person and then as an administrator how difficult things may be – like telling teachers you’ve got to handle this more properly maybe. It was a good understanding.”
Aguirre said he didn’t think the sit in was a bad thing, and appreciated the students taking initiative toward something they believed in.
“This is not a bad thing. There was nothing violent about this at all. It was more boisterous than it was anything and I think actually in the end they made some good points and I would like to go to a school where people listen to my good points and I think that is the type of school that we’re trying to maintain and continuously polish.”
While there have been no immediate changes to the school’s attendance policy, Aguirre said conversations will continue in the weeks to come, and any changes will likely be made after a committee of students, teachers and parents is formed to hash out the formal change process.