KPS should actively include students in important decision making

Over the span of this past year in quarantine, the school community has faced some turbulent times. Left and right, the Kalamazoo Public Schools Board of Education has had to call consequential shots that could mean life or death, justice or injustice for students and faculty.

Each crucial decision by the school board is bound to leave some people feeling unheard, but the voice of the student body has been stifled; the school board opts instead for the approval of parents, rarely reaching out to students for meaningful feedback when they are arguably the party affected most.

Take, for instance, the board’s recent decision to remain virtual until the end of the school year. Parents, teachers and non-teaching faculty were all polled on whether or not they were comfortable with returning to the school building, though there was no seat at the table for students.

While parents could speak on behalf of their children, that’s not to say they will. The viewpoints of teenage students and their parents may be polarizing, potentially leaving whole demographics of students unaccounted for. 

Kalamazoo Central senior Humberto Zamora has been at the forefront of the outcry for a “hybrid decision to be implemented optionally for students and parents that feel comfortable with taking classes in person,” according to his petition that, as of March 6, has garnered over 600 signatures from community members. 

At the Feb. 25 board meeting cementing the previous verdict, Zamora raised the concern that “the people making these decisions aren’t actually impacted by these decisions directly.” Regardless of whether or not you support the board’s decision to remain virtual, Zamora speaks on behalf of the countless students who feel silenced, making clear the issue at play.

Many members of the senior class are even legal adults, able to make their own educational decisions like when and where they go to school. These students are now a part of the population that elects our congressmen, senators, governor, president and even the KPS Board of Education trustees themselves. 

Previously, Loy Norrix has hosted efforts to get the voices of students out of the building and into the electorate by providing students with resources on voter registration. As a staff, we believe that the school board should show this kind of commitment to involving students in decision-making within our own school community and not just on a broader, governmental scale. 

An effort should be made to not only keep students informed on the happenings of the school board, but to actively include them in the discussion. Baseline, this means that polls of students should be taken into account alongside other groups, though the line certainly should not be drawn there. Hosting forums for students to have a back-and-forth with decision-makers would provide a satisfying avenue for voicing opinions as opposed to the monologuing that often occupies official board meetings. 

Previously, local student organizations have vouched for a non-voting body of students to have a direct presence on the school board. This is a debated method of student representation within the educational community—some scholars praise the initiative it encourages in students while others dismiss it as beyond the scope of highschoolers—but has been implemented in districts across the nation and is a solution worth examining.

Decision-making may be one of the most important skills to instill in young people. We are already barraged with  life-changing decisions that may determine our direction after graduation, and that’s only going to continue. If nothing else, students should feel like they have control over their lives for the many, many hours they spend at school, putting the “home” in what’s supposed to be our “second home.”

As a publication, it has long been our goal to represent the voice of the Loy Norrix community. We seek to elevate the voices of students by giving them a platform to speak their mind. It’s important to us, as a newspaper staff, that these same values are upheld by the actions and practices of KPS.