The students of Holy Names High School only had a few hours between the moment they received the upsetting email Tuesday night and the time the administration shut down their email system in which to coordinate the logistics of the protest. The email that spurred the walk out was from their athletic director and teacher, Sarah LeMier. It contained a recording of LeMier’s meeting with the school’s Principal and Assistant Principal, in which LeMier is scolded for her style of unprofessionalism and responds by indicting the administration of “running the mission of the school into the ground.” Though Principal Curran repeatedly asks LeMier not to “soap box,” the recording ends with LeMier tearfully remonstrating the administrators’ “ego” and “lack of respect for the students.”
According to Senior, Maya Bello, this spat is just another example of the administration’s “offensive treatment” of students and teachers in an ongoing series of unappeased complaints. On the 18th, after receiving the recording, the students composed a list of demands over iChat. “We got [the list of demands] out to all of the seniors and juniors right before they shut down the email system,” said Coots, the principle author of the list, “and [the next morning, on Wednesday, the 19th] sixty percent of the student body walked out.” They returned to school on Thursday.
The list, complete with explanations and examples can be found below, but the demands center around a lack of transparency in budgeting decisions. Specifically, the new administration (both the Principal and Assistant Principal were hired last year) has cut honors classes, electives and student affairs programming in order to invest in more robust tech programming and what many of the students are complaining is an outsized, 17-person, non-faculty staff responsible for marketing and other non-academic administration. The suspicion held by many of the students is that the tech program will make HN competitive with other private schools with wealthier demographics, like Bentley, at the expense of a fully-supported teaching faculty.
“They’ve been abusing the teachers and we can feel it as students,” said Coots, “so we have the support of a lot of teachers for what we’re doing out here.”
The walk out lasted all day, despite several attempts to lock students in the building, then out of the building and several announcements that there would be disciplinary sanctions. The choir girls steadily practiced their hymns in elaborate harmony to one side of the courtyard. When asked what the school’s mission was– the mission that the students claim has been “corrupted” by the new administration– almost all the girls stood up, gathered together and recited the mission in unison.
“There’s no trust or good will any more on the campus,” said senior Eva Harmon. “In the last year the atmosphere and the student social affairs and the academic integrity have all declined.” The students went on to list examples of various student-led projects like a Black History Month assembly, or a guest speaker event organized by the Jewish Student Group that were thwarted by the administration’s neglect or, in some cases, deliberate obstruction.
“We’ve complained about these things before and we’ve had talking groups with the administration but nothing ever changes. That’s why this time we’re calling for the removal of the assistant principal,” said Harmon.
Assistant Principal Kirkbride did not return phone calls or emails asking for comment but the school released an official statement in which they said “It is heartening to see within our Holy Names young women a passion and dedication for their school, their teachers, their peers, and their education.” Adding, “…all budget and school decisions are made with the best interest of our students in mind to provide them with a challenging college preparatory education exercising wise stewardship of material and human resources.” They did not respond to any of the specific demands made by the students.
Since the walk out on Tuesday, LeMier has been notified that she will be suspended for the rest of the year for her role in the student dissent. There will be a meeting at 5:30 on Friday, March 21st where students, parents and administrators will discuss grievances and ways to move forward.
To: Colleen Curran and Rachel Kirkbride
From: Holy Names Student Body
Holy Names High School Student Body Walkout List of Demands
March 19, 2014
We, the students of Holy Names are orchestrating a walkout as a form of protest against the injustices committed by Administration. Below, we have listed our demands and some of the examples of the very injustices we are protesting against.
1. Stop making arbitrary and unnecessary changes without parent, student, or staff input. Holy Names administrators have not been involving students, parents, or staff in the absurd, unnecessary and arbitrary changes that they have implemented. These changes have significantly and directly affected student academic achievement as well as the quality of the learning environment.
2. Stop the harassment of teachers. We demand that Holy Names administrators stop harassing our teachers. For this entire year, it has been evident that our teachers have been very stressed and disturbed because they have constantly been harassed and threatened by Holy Names administrators. Their stress has without a doubt affected the overall classroom environment and consequently, our academic achievement. We demand that administration stop retaliating against those brave and caring teachers who have voiced their opinions and opposition to the aforementioned absurd and arbitrary changes that Holy Names administrators have implemented without student, parent, or staff involvement.
3. Continue to offer Honors Classes next year. It is explicitly written in our school mission statement that Holy Names High School should provide an academically challenging college-preparatory education. In order to ensure the fulfillment of the school’s mission, Holy Names must continue offering honors courses. We demand that administrators observe, uphold, respect, and honor the mission and core values that the sisters of the Holy Names established.
4. Listen to the students. We, the students, demand and deserve to be respected. We demand that our voices be heard through our student leaders. Holy Names administrators have consistently shut down our student leaders and have refused to recognize that students should be involved in any changes that might affect our education or our learning environment.
5. Stop violating our privacy. We are aware that administration regularly monitors student and teacher email accounts. Very recently, in fact, administration tried to deter student and teacher communication in disabling all student and teacher email accounts. This is an egregious violation of our privacy and we demand that administration stop doing this immediately.
6. Hire a new assistant principal. We demand that administration hire a new assistant principal that has a degree in education or administration, or who is otherwise qualified for the position. We demand someone who has a better understanding of student academic needs, better communication skills, and above all, someone who has the students’ best interests in mind.
7. Zero retaliation against or punishment of students for exercising our civil right to protest. We demand that there be no retaliation in any form from Holy Names administrators against the students involved in this walkout, or the staff, as a result of this protest. As citizens of this country we have been granted the right to peacefully demonstrate and protest in order to make our voices heard. Not only are we are observing our civil right to protest, but we are upholding the values in our school’s mission statement.
Holy Names High School, a small Catholic school for young women, provides an academically challenging, college preparatory education, in a vibrant learning environment. Our diverse community nurtures spirituality, and promotes justice, preparing our next generation for leadership and service.
We demand that administration meet with the entire Holy Names community (students, parents and staff) in order to resolve these issues.