Students suspended for protest
April 30, 2009 · Updated 11:48 AM
By Brian Beckley-The Courier-Herald
Nine Bonney Lake High School students were suspended March 28 for protesting an administration policy they say interrupts the education process more than the behavior it hopes to correct.
Construction along South Prairie Road, the primary route to the school, as well as what district officials portrayed as continuing tardiness - repeatedly characterized as students coming in late holding Starbucks cups - has led the high school administration to more strictly enforce its tardy policy, known as Panther Attendance Work Shop, or PAWS.
“They are in the building. They are just not going to class,” District Communications Director Ann Cook said.
Under the PAWS policy, instituted March 22, students who are not in their homerooms when the first bell rings are rounded up by administrators, given a warning and parent contact is made. Previously, teachers wrote up the student, which Cook described as taking away from class time, and the school only made parental contact after the third tardy. Students are then returned to their first period classes.
According to Cook, the program is working. Cook said the first day the new emphasis was in place, 84 students received warnings. A week later, that number had shrunk to seven.
But to sophomores Seanna Sullivan and Britney Fisher, the disruption of a group of students returning to class mid-lesson seems more disturbing than students coming in a few minutes late. To make their point, Sullivan and Fisher helped organize a sit-in in the school's commons. Approximately 30 students initially took part in the protest and 180 signatures were collected in protest of the policy.
“We sat down in the middle of the commons and refused to go to class,” Sullivan said. “We were protesting because we thought PAWS does more harm than good.”
School officials quickly moved in, however, and students were given 30 seconds to return to class or face suspension. Nine students stayed and all were immediately given a three-day suspension for “insubordination.”
Sullivan, who said she has never before been in trouble at school, said she was a little surprised at the school's reaction to their protest.
“I don't see why they reacted so hugely to our protest,” she said.
Though Washington state law gives students the “Constitutional right to peaceably assemble and to petition the government and its representatives for a redress of grievances,” the law also states such protests will be subject to “reasonable limitations upon the time, place and manner of exercising such right.”
According to Cook, the students were not suspended for protesting, but because of the manner and timing of the protest.
“We don't have a suspension policy for kids who are protesting,” Cook said, adding, “There's a time and a place, but when the bell rings, that place is class and that's where they need to be.
“They can protest before school. If an adult gives a direction to a student and they refuse to comply, absolutely they are suspended,” she said. “The kids don't run the school, there are rules.”
Cook said there is “some degree of accuracy in the observation” that some kids may be somewhat disruptive in their return to class, but said as the number of PAWS enforcement cases have declined, the students get back to class sooner.
Mischel Sullivan, Seanna's mother, said she was “quite proud” of her daughter's actions.
“She has the courage of her convictions,” Mischel Sullivan said, adding “perhaps the school should have listened a little more to what the kids were saying.”
Mischel Sullivan said the school did not contact her the morning her daughter was suspended and said both she and her husband have cell phones and that her husband was home at the time of the incident.
According to the suspension form, which arrived at the Sullivan home the Saturday following their daughter's suspension, the parents were not able to be reached and a family friend was called instead.
The Sullivans have also signed the petition to repeal PAWS, which she said lacks “common sense,” and are in a “wait and see mode” with other parents as to how to address their kids' suspensions.
Cook insisted the the program is working and will continue.
“Kids are going to class now instead of hanging out in the commons,” Cook said.
Bonney Lake High School administration declined to comment, calling it a matter of student discipline.
All nine students were scheduled to return from their suspensions Monday.