Stop needlless detentions

Chronicle Staff

Outside the cafeteria hang three pieces of paper. One of them is pink, one is white and the other one is light green. The casual passerby would note that these are bright pastel colors — Easter colors — above all, considerably happy colors. But, the words written on these sheets are a far cry from happy.
On these sheets lie the lists spelling out detentions, tardies and unexcused absences.

The tardy list I understand — the sooner students get to class, the more they learn.

The unexcused absence board I understand as well. Whenever a student is absent, the school has a right to know why.

 It’s the detention board that consistently baffles me, for the detentions given out on this board are not like the detentions from “The Breakfast Club.” They are not given out for pulling the fire alarm, or taping somebody’s buttocks together. Instead they are given out for negligence — pure and simple.

Before we criticize the detention policy, we must understand it. When students miss class they are put on the “unexcused absence” list. This is regardless of whether they had a doctor’s appointment, a broken-down car or a family emergency. It is regardless of whether they were actually trying to play hooky, they simply forgot to sign in for their first period class or the teacher mistakenly marked them absent.

From the moment a student’s name appears on the list, the student has 48 hours to go and see Attendance Coordinator J. Gabriel Preciado and get the absence cleared.
At face value, this sounds fair — but is it?

In a school where some students do not have a single free period in a day, can we really penalize people for not checking “the board”?

In a school where we are encouraged to spend free periods meeting with teachers and build relationships with classmates, is it really logical to force students to make beelines towards attendance boards?

In a school that claims to “trust” its students, why should students only have two short days to clear up an absence?

I understand the school’s mission — force people in one fell swoop to both act more responsibly and stay in class.

But the execution is messy, chaotic and downright unnecessary.

I cannot count the times I have seen students muttering about detentions they have received. Whenever asked about why they received this detention — and were forced to wake a full hour early to get to school at 7 a.m. — the answer is almost always, “I forgot to clear an absence.”
I firmly stand by the school in its goal of keeping students in class.

For a school as proud of its academic achievements as Harvard-Westlake, students staying in their classes is vital. But I also firmly believe that our students are good kids. The majority of them are hard workers, and they are not out to trick the system. Maybe they are a bit distracted, but who can blame them? Trying to juggle a varsity sport, three AP classes and the debate team is time consuming — maybe they simply forgot to check “the board.”

Should they get detention for this? The answer is undeniably no.

Head of School Jeanne Huybrechts’ used to start every middle school assembly with the words, “Good morning, scholars.” I pose the question: have we stopped being scholars by coming to the Upper School? I’m positive scholars are given more leeway with their attendance than 172,800 seconds to clear up an infraction that they may never have even known about.

All we want is to be treated like adults, and an inflexible attendance policy that requires students to consistently make circles around the second floor of Chalmers is not helping us grow up.