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New Admin Changes

by Andrew Ochoa, Features Editor

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In Sept. of 2017, the everyday rigor of my honors English class was halted for an uneasy two hours. The dissection of the Salem Witch Trials was replaced by the building of Lego and a viewing of Lilo & Stitch.

Rumors crept across the classroom of a naked man in a standoff with police; a tatt00-plastered man taking a last stand in his garage; a man in pink Crocs fleeing authorities in the Summerlin area. The upperclassman, who in all their high school years had yet to be subject to whatever warranted a “hard-lockdown,”  took any explanation for what was happening, however exaggerated, as a reprieve from their anxious imaginations.

After a short time, the cause was revealed to be a simple, nearby domestic dispute, and students brushed it off as an easy excuse for skipping their second period. Nearly a year later, after months of national tragedies, proposed security measures, and student-led discussions, I look back at this extended stay in English class as the first hint of the continuous shifts and reworkings of Palo Policies to come.

It would only be a short five months until the shooting in Parkland, Florida would spark a national conversation reaching all the way across the country. Palo parents were in a lather; asking what the administration could do for the safety of their children. Between district budget cuts and a community divided on solutions–from requests of arming teachers to installing metal detectors–finding a solution for everyone was almost impossible.

Mr. Sweikert proposed an expensive plan of moving the portable classes as to be able to lock the doors. Clear backpacks were shortly tested around campus before backlash from students. An additional security monitor was hired, though near the very end of the school year. A long way from the classroom gossip and unclear school protocols that would emerge with any sign of danger, the Palo Verde of 2018-19 seems desperate to project the idea that new, lasting policies are ahead.

Norman Smith, Dean of Students, has had a crash course in school safety. Joining Palo faculty just last year, right in time for the start of the security frenzy, much of Mr. Smith’s time here has been spent either planning or helping execute whatever measures Sweikert or Palo’s SOT (School Organizational Team) Committee find appropriate. An idea around since the post-Columbine-safety-movement and locally put into place in Victoria Fertitta Middle School, Smith has been intent on making ID badges a comfortable solution for as many students as possible.

“It’s a security issue, it’s not an out to get the kids issue,” Smith says, preemptively trying to soothe whatever student concerns I may bring up. As I repeat the grievances heard around campus whenever the annoyances of attending school are added upon, Smith reacts with a learned familiarity. Reminding me of the fact that any campus presence, even administration, is required to wear a badge, and of the incident last year when students (having been kicked out of their own school for bringing weapons to class) were found on Palo grounds, and of the support the deans have received from parents. “There will be grace periods and such as everybody gets used to it, we’re not gonna jump down your throats,” Smith said.

The admin hope to strike the perfect balance between firm policies and a comfortable environment for students. Still, students are getting accustomed to the bathroom passes, badges, and added security of the 18-19 school year, and administration assurances aren’t quite enough to subside all the campus’ complaints.

In the mere weeks since learning of the badges, a larger uproar has been spurred out into the world of high school gossip than in recent memory. The proverbial embarrassing class picture, made doubly so by having to be adorned across your chest. While lack of fashion sense is a poor argument to any security policy, the truly significant question is if the ID system is much of a deterrent at all. Anyone deranged enough to inflict damage upon the unarmed certainly has no regard for their dress code. But what would stop such a person? A locked door that the school’s archaic, open-campus layout prevents us from having? A costly metal detector that would require additional employees to man?

Aside from the occasional, delinquent teenager loitering upon campus, the badges may only be sparsely helpful, but with Palo’s budget leaving us with a class average of nearly 45 students and a lack of planners whatever safety measure was to come about had a ceiling to its effectiveness.

This unfortunate reality of our district’s position, however, doesn’t forgive a move made to quell cries for security without actually affecting the situation. I believe, and always have, that a public school running at its best is one that thinks of students first. If badges are decided to be an unhelpful and inconvenient solution by the class body in the coming weeks, changes should be made to reflect that belief. But that decision should only be made out of a resistance to embolden patronizing answers to important issues.

Color-coded bathroom passes and IDs, a larger security presence, and a campus now partitioned into zones; the face of Palo Verde is slowly maturing with the conversation of school safety. A conversation of change and the sacrifices made for it. The students at the center of this debate must not be whisked away by it, subject to whatever rules are decided for them. Concerned only with how the policies meant for the security of their lives obscure the designs on their t-shirts.

Unrest over shifts anew must be pointed and resilient. We have reasons to dislike the changes ahead, let’s focus on those that matter.

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