SCHENECTADY – High school students staged a walkout Monday morning to protest a schedule change that doubles the amount of time they’re in a particular class.
Under the new block schedule put in place Monday, which is part of the administration’s effort to get students reacclimated to in-person learning and student safety, the student day consists of four 90-minute classes.
Previously, students were accustomed to eight 45-minute classes.
“It was crazy; we have pictures and everything,” senior student Maximus Garcia said of the walkout.
“They’re used to the old schedule,” Garcia said, “and then they come out the blue with two-hour classes, basically.”
“Some people say they don’t like sitting down in one place for too long,” he said. “They like to move around, and they’re used to the five minutes to get to classes to just stretch, talk to friends, instead of being trapped in one class for 90 minutes.”
“Because they extended the classes,” added fellow walkout participant Isabella Rodriguez, a 10th-grader, “they also pushed our lunches later. Our latest lunch was from 12:30, and now it’s 1:20 to 1:50.”
Rodriguez also bemoaned what she said was a lack of clarity about the rationale for the changes.
Schenectady City School District spokeswoman Karen Corona said the change is in response to concerns brought forward about safety and culture, and that reducing the number of times students transition from classes cuts down on the possibility of students engaging in conflict.
Conflicts in the high school have been well-documented during the first month of the year.
A parent recently told the newspaper that his son was assaulted twice in the same day, including one attack that was captured on a video recording.
A social studies teacher recently decried violence in the high school, pointing to two times non-students entered the building in search of violence. In one instance, two women were arrested after they entered a class and assaulted a female student.
In the other case, the intruders left without incident.
According to Corona, the walkout started at 9:10 a.m. and lasted about an hour.
Corona said teachers and administrators weren’t caught off-guard by the walkout because students told them well in advance that it was to happen.
“They didn’t try to stop the students,” she said. “They allowed the walkout to occur.”
Following the walkout, Executive Principal Christopher Chank met with juniors and seniors to listen to their concerns, correct misinformation and talk about root causes and challenges school staff have faced this year, prompting changes, Corona said.
“The school certainly encourages and respects students’ voices,” Corona said. “What they’re trying to do is help the students understand why this change is being made, and that’s part of the work that they were doing last week – and they’ll continue to do that and talk to the students to try to help them understand the rationale behind the decision.”
A few parents who were approached by a Daily Gazette reporter during dismissal said they weren’t aware of the walkout.
But they were aware of the new schedule.
“I don’t like it because I think the kids will get bored sitting in class for so long,” parent Samantha Gocool said. “I think it’s going to discourage a lot of kids from going to school.”
Joseph Wickham, an 11th-grader, said he didn’t participate in the walkout because he was concerned about upsetting his father.
Wickham said the new schedule wasn’t as bad as he thought it would be, but he felt it was “kinda messed up” to spring the change on students a month into the year.
“I actually don’t think the school knows what it’s doing,” he asserted.
Savannah Piper, an 11th-grader, said she didn’t mind the change, yet she participated in the walkout in support of a friend who she said objected to the new schedule.
First-year Superintendent Anibal Soler Jr. spoke about the new schedule last week as part of a needed “reset” of the high school as it transitions to in-person learning after a year-and-a-half of remote learning because of the pandemic.
“The traditional eight periods a day schedule isn’t right, right now,” Soler told a reporter. “We have to reset that to get you back in the groove of things. Next year could look different. Right now: reset, get the kids back to school, and used to doing the things that they’re used to. Get that climate and that culture going. Hopefully, the facemasks come off [eventually] and kids feel more normal again.”
Soler noted that a reset on climate and culture, and challenges from fights and disruptions, had been discussed as far back as 2019 under a previous administration.
Then the pandemic hit.
“The kids were asking for it, but it just never really occurred,” he said.
Soler acknowledged that students, staff and administrators are fatigued as they return to in-person learning.
“Some of the violence has been a manifestation of people not having the social interaction they were used to having,” he said. “Social media makes the game a lot harder. These kids have been interacting with each other online, and all of a sudden they are seeing each other.”
Contact reporter Brian Lee at [email protected] or 518-419-9766.