This article was written by senior Sam Clark.
Note: All the students interviewed for this article wished to stay anonymous.
In early January, a rumor circulated through U-32 that sounded something like this: a student threw a sandwich at an administrator in the senior lounge. The U-32 rumor machine hardly ever pulls punches, so some extreme versions of this storyline reached much of the high school community. In reality, the incident in question involved the student getting frustrated and throwing his sandwich into the trash can right next to the door.
The sandwich incident follows a larger pattern of discontent among older students. This year’s seniors have come up through U-32 with the pandemic, sexual harassment scandals, and questions around inclusivity all weighing on the school board and greater community. There seems to be particular tension between the current seniors and the school’s administration, compared to prior years.
At the end of 2020, during the class of 2022’s sophomore year, the entire US went into lockdown. The next year, for many students the most academically rigorous year of high school, the community was contending with Covid. The school’s necessary mitigation policies made it very difficult for teachers to assign work, students to do it, and the administration to make school bearable and inviting for kids.
Principal Steven Dellinger-Pate said that the pandemic resulted in the class of 2022 not seeing as much of an example from the senior class before them: “[They] missed a whole almost year and a half of being able to see what older kids were doing.”
Many students have mixed feelings about some of the administration’s contradictory COVID policies, one saying that the admin has “done a reasonable job given how rough the situation has been the last couple years,” but also added that regarding COVID decisions like the 6-to-a-table rule in the cafeteria, “they should have a better risk analysis of what they’re doing before they move forward.”
The frustration around conflicting policies is one of the senior class’s biggest complaints. During the first semester of this year, the cafeteria was the only indoor space where students could eat lunch, but with the new 6-to-a-table policy for maskless students there was not enough space for everyone to eat. This resulted in many seniors getting fed up and eating in the senior lounge, where food was prohibited. This eventually led to the sandwich incident.
Jes Wills is U-32’s new Associate Principal. Regarding the senior lounge she commented, “I have to balance the rules and expectations, as well as giving [seniors] an opportunity to be adults, because that’s what you really are at this point.”
The no-food policy was informed by past senior classes who left the space “trashed.” However, after students came to her with a more formal proposal, Jes was swayed. “It feels like every senior class should at least have that opportunity,” She said.
However, the senior lounge unpleasantness pales in comparison with another issue that many seniors have with the administration; their handling of multiple sexual misconduct cases.
After a U-32 health teacher left last year amid misconduct allegations, one student said his new health teacher didn’t know anything about the situation. He said the teacher was unable to support the students, many of whom were affected by the prior teacher’s leaving.
The anonymous student addressed the lack of communication between the administration and others in the school community. “I think that displays [school leadership] not really taking into consideration the extent to which students were impacted by this,” he said. “Even if they weren’t [affected] directly.”
It is worth noting that the sexual misconduct issues known to students have involved both students’ and teachers’ misconduct. Discussion around one sexual misconduct case regarding problems with a student circulated around the school when a victim of sexual harassment decided to tell their story over social media. For the incidents with teachers that have been common knowledge among the student body, there is a pattern visible to the whole community: students witness creepy or inappropriate behavior in class, then the teacher is no longer at U32.
Jes said that, from the administration’s point of view, Title IX prevents the administration from any action that could hint at an ongoing investigation for students or teachers. For specific cases, all parties involved must remain anonymous, and the administration often invokes Title IX confidentiality in response to student’s concerns about teacher misconduct.
However, the students also commented on a perceived lack of leadership regarding school culture, and older students interviewed who have witnessed multiple events in their time at U-32 felt that students’ collective discomfort had been long unaddressed.
Jes said that she doesn’t feel the administration can be responsible for what she sees as a student culture issue; school leadership “coming from above” to create a more supportive school environment would feel inauthentic. “Students are going to listen to students before they’re going to listen to adults. That’s research based,” she said.
Seniors will always have conflict with the administration in different ways from the rest of the student body, but what should their responsibilities be regarding how they handle it? Steven said that one thing everyone can count on is that there will be problems. “Of course we’re gonna butt heads a little bit. It’s teenagers and it’s adults. It’s a natural course of life.”