Confusion, distrust, misinformation make for freaky Friday

In the days leading up to Feb. 24, we were reminded that Friday would open with a two-hour health and wellness assembly. Most of us approached it with dread, but the seniors’ meeting about drinking turned into a very candid and authentic discussion. With only the high school guidance counselors in the room, members of the class took turns addressing alcohol at Westminster—how the school needs an amnesty policy, the widespread belief that administrators are embracing punishment over rehabilitation, how the school shouldn’t extend its powers into students’ off-campus lives. I thought it was going well—our time together was no longer an exercise in forcing words out of our mouths just to pass time. Truth and honesty abounded.

But as soon as someone in the room asked about alleged search dogs and policemen on campus during the 2-hour meetings, it all went downhill. We freaked out and left Warren, dismayed, angry, and bitter. The two minutes we had to get to class seemed like forever as we were trying to catch glimpses of policemen in senior lot, and many of us remained outside of Robinson well into 3rd period. Word got out to the administration that the student body knew about the dogs because Mr. Souza, via intercom, called a ’12 class meeting following 3rd. We were under the impression that the administration purposefully scheduled a two-hour assembly and locked us in Warren so that it could invite the Atlanta police department to search our cars for drugs. How could we have a conversation about honesty while our cars were secretly being searched by law enforcement?

Our second grade-wide gathering surprisingly became as genuine as the first. And it would’ve been a good recovery—Mr. Souza and Ms. Fondren didn’t hide anything and told us that there were in fact dogs on campus, that they had to act on various reports of a drug dealer on campus, that they are concerned for our grade and our habits, and that the policemen arrived at an admittedly terrible time—had it not been prematurely cut short. The meeting became a rare opportunity for us to speak 200:2 with the deans. The deans ended the meeting before the discussion gained momentum, but that was an opportunity missed on their parts. We wanted to be open, we wanted to tell the deans what was on our minds about improving drug and alcohol policies at school. Never before did we have such a readily available chance to reach administrators and never before had they gotten a chance to get such direct opinions and suggestions. If administrators really wanted to get our feedback, they wouldn’t use surveymonkey in place of a discussion with the 200 of us present. They should have kept us there to finish the discussion. The timing would have been good, emotions were in the right place, and the whole situation could have ended there.

While the drug dogs may have arrived at a bad time, Westminster was within its rights to bring them and the police. We as students don’t have any rights at Westminster. When we step on campus, we surrender all of our rights, including those detailed by the 4th amendment—the right against unreasonable seizure. One of the simplest reasons is known as in loco parentis, a Latin phrase that means that while a student is in the custody of a school, the school can act as a parent. Violation of students’ rights is usually upheld by courts also due to the role of a school: education. If a student does something that can interfere with the education process, violation of rights can be suppressed. Additionally, private schools have more discretion than do public schools. While a public school may have to defend its violations, private schools can set their limits arbitrarily. Sorry, but we signed into that, and we have to deal. In TLO v. New Jersey, the Supreme Court acknowledged two things: the school’s role of in loco parentis and that school officials are representatives of the state. In the case, the school searched a student’s purse for cigarettes for suspicion of smoking on school grounds, and violation of privacy and rights was upheld by the Court.

The school holds that it has ample reason to run the school the way it has, to protect students, even though some actions may appear severe or excessive. We as students cannot possibly step into the shoes of administrators and know everything that is happening, and we cannot base our opinions on the surface information we know. I’m afraid that we have taken too simplistic a view, and one based very much on emotion.

Many have voiced that they are upset about the school’s unclear and confusing policies. They seem inconsistent and appear to follow procedures that the student body is not clearly relayed to the student body. Yes, more information needs to be disclosed to us about exactly how the administration currently addresses disciplinary issues, but students cannot complain that punishments are too harsh. Our parents do not pay the school in exchange for a flawless record. We must remember that the real world will not offer us warnings and letters to our parents for offences.

We also cannot expect a free-for-all. Students seem to be under the impression that we can do whatever we want on and off-campus. Everything a student does is very much the school’s business, and when you get caught for something, you should face any consequences given by the school. Westminster is a business, and all of us are its assets. It has to protect us and itself simultaneously. Sometimes we just need to accept this.  Students should question what the administration is doing, but we should also be mature enough to understand that rules and disciplines are to protect, and ultimately help us.

The school cares about us. I really believe this, and so should more students. I think that as students, we should be appreciative of our general experience here—we can be upset with elements of the school, but need to acknowledge that Westminster allows us to grow, think critically, and make good decisions. If it seems inappropriate for the school to be governed like a business, then students who feel this way always have the option to leave and enroll in a different school.

Do we attend this school with too much a sense of entitlement? Society has always been filled with fair and unfair punishments, and to complain about too draconian a punishment seems petty. Ultimately, the school and the students should re-evaluate their principles. To what extent does the school need to act more on the will of the student body, and, conversely, to what extent do students need the courage to look inwardly and question the validity and righteousness of their collective will?