Eyes half open, restless from hours of driving and exhausted from a pitiful night of sleep, I walked onto campus and into my second period history class. It was April 17. I had just returned from one of the best weekends of my life, the first weekend of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. I had left my hotel room at 4 a.m. on two and a half hours of sleep in hopes of returning to school on time and not getting a detention.
My story is far from unusual. 120 students missed school that Monday in a combination of absences from the festival and Senior Ditch Day. In 2016, the school served 110 Coachella-related detentions after former Head of Upper School Audrius Barzdukas introduced the “Own It” policy in 2013, encouraging students to admit to missing school for the festival instead of using excuses. The problem isn’t even unique to our school — the Atlantic reported in 2013 that many Los Angeles teachers plan around anticipated low attendance around the festival weekends.
Students should clearly be honest about why they are missing school, especially to be in line with the school’s Honor Code. It also seems at least somewhat reasonable that students should not be able to miss school without a consequence.
However, the school should allow some more leniency in response to such widespread attendance of the event and allow students to attend with less or no punishment.
Students who don’t miss days of school and want to stay in good disciplinary standing must miss one third of the festival if it falls during a school week; the venue opens at 11 a.m. every day and an entire day of acts are booked on Friday. Students who choose to stay for later acts on Sunday (for example, headliner Kendrick Lamar who began playing at 10:35 p.m. last year) are forced to either miss the day of school and receive a detention, lie about why they are missing school, or drive home on little or no sleep. This is particularly troubling given that students may be intoxicated or affected by a lack of sleep on their nearly 150 mile drive from the festival to school.
The school should develop a solution to allow students to attend the festival more reasonably. In 2015, the school published its Visions for 2020, a series of values meant to accomplish the mission statement. If the school hopes to follow these values, one of which states that “Happiness and balance will become primary values in the HW culture and in shaping the experience of students,” it seems nonsensical for students to be so harshly punished for missing a day of school.
Currently, an unexcused absence results in detention. If the school emphasizes balance for students in strong standing, it seems hypocritical to punish them for missing minimal school to attend one of the most notable music festivals in the world.
On Windward School’s official 2017 calendar, April 22 and 23 were marked as “Music Festival,” with the school closed April 24, coinciding with weekend two of the festival. The Atlantic reported in 2013 that Crossroads School purposefully planned a grading day after the festival.
Harvard-Westlake would not be alone in cancelling school around the festival and allowing students to more easily attend would be in line with the school’s visions of “happiness and balance”.
Overall, with such a momentous cultural event nearly in our backyard, it seems nonsensical that the school would punish students for attending. While detention is a fairly mild punishment, the school would be best off with a lighter punishment or cancelling school entirely if it hopes to remain faithful to its visions.
Let’s avoid forcing students to stroll into history class on two hours of sleep because they wanted to see Kendrick. Let’s stop dangerous drives in the middle of the night to make it to campus on time. And finally, let’s allow students to sometimes enjoy themselves in spite of school. Here’s to happiness, balance and live music.