Midpeninsula Post

Gunn implements new hall pass system, receives mixed reactions

Gunn student walking with a hall pass in February 2023. (Yoochan An)

Students at Henry M. Gunn High School must wear laminated red hall passes when leaving class to go to the bathroom or get water, as of January.

The hall pass policy limits bathroom and water breaks to a maximum of ten minutes. Students without a visible pass may be asked to prove that they are on a free period by staff members.

The system was not implemented because of any specific event, but rather out of the administration team’s desire to keep students from spending too much time outside of the classroom during teaching hours, Principal Wendy Stratton said.

“I have to own the safety of students,” Stratton said. “If I’m responsible for the students and there are some that really do need a little extra guidance, then this really is the level of accountability that should be put into place.”

Stratton said racial equity was another factor that went into the decision. Some students submitted complaints claiming that they were being reported for loitering on the basis of their race, according to Stratton. The implementation of the passes ensures that only students without a pass will be stopped outside of class, eliminating the possibility of racial profiling, she said.

“[Racial equity] was not the primary driver, but it was something we acknowledged in our thinking,” Stratton said. “Historically underserved students felt like they were being targeted as somebody that’s purposefully not in class.”

Student Executive Committee Sports Commissioner and senior Pooja Bucklin said she had a hard time understanding how some staff members were racially profiling students, especially because the school advertises that its staff goes through racial equity training.

Stratton said feedback from teachers has been relatively mixed, especially because those who teach upperclassmen often trust their students to use their breaks appropriately.

“A lot of the teachers were super grateful,” Stratton said. “[Some teachers] said ‘Some of our kids really needed this structure.’ And at the same time, others were going ‘What do you mean? I already have a system.’”

Some students, like senior Jay Huo, have not been receptive to the system. Huo said he believes it is unnecessary given the student behavior at Gunn.

“I just thought [the decision] was absurd, because I didn’t understand why it was important for Gunn,” Huo said. “I had an experience with hall passes in middle school, and because I didn’t go to such a good school and people were hanging out all the time, I could understand why we needed hall passes then. But at Gunn, I just don’t see that.”

Many students continue to voice concerns about the hygiene of the passes, according to Bucklin. Some students have also claimed that the provided 10-minute period is not sufficient for students to access the gender-neutral bathrooms, which generally require students to walk longer distances. To help address complaints, Stratton and other members of the administrative team met with Gunn’s student executive council to survey the impact of the passes and to consider potential alterations.

Bucklin said she felt that the meeting with the administrators was a good idea in theory, but that the administrators did not fully consider or accept student critiques.

“Kudos to [the administrators] for coming and hearing us, but it felt a little bit like offense versus defense, and they were on defense the whole time,” Bucklin said. “It just doesn’t really sound like they want to change [the passes] or plan to change them at all.”

Bucklin said that the administration also refuted or brushed aside many of the student complaints, especially regarding hygiene.

“Some people said they refused to use the passes because they’re unhygienic, and the admins responded by saying, ‘We see that point, but at the same time, much of our daily practice is unhygienic and you should be washing your hands a lot anyways,’” Bucklin said.

Similarly, freshman class President Martin Blanchet said that in the meeting with the SEC, administrators provided vague responses to student concerns.

“The way I saw it was it felt like [the administrators] were avoiding the questions and kind of just giving a blanket response to everything,” Blanchet said. “Everyone should have a voice in this [decision] since it does affect 100% of the student population.”

According to Blanchet, the SEC and administrators seemed to agree to lengthen the time limit for students who need to walk further to access gender-neutral bathrooms. However, like with other concerns, they did not provide a specific timeline for the implementation or a definite response.

“In the end, the issue that I have with the passes is the fact that nobody was consulted on this beforehand, that admin didn’t even try to put something in place like a committee,” Blanchet said. “Overall, the system definitely has flaws that can be fixed, but the main idea is not bad.”

Stratton said that she regrets not consulting students earlier and that she may create a focus group of several students to better hone in on the issue. Whether or not the system will change next school year remains unknown.

“We’ll see about making changes,” Stratton said.” I’m going to honor the student’s voice, but from my perspective so far, it feels like [the system’s implementation] is going well. Kids are using [the passes] … it’s great to have a system.”

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