It’s about people, not policy: an editorial

22 Nov

Clearly he’s never done this before. What high school student has? That awful sound when you speak too close to the microphone rings out across the board room, room 122 in Lancaster High School, until senior Matt Jaskier leans back a few inches. It subsides, and he clears his throat.

I’m covering the Lancaster School District board meeting Monday night when I’m surprised by Jaskier’s appearance at the podium during the public hearing, surprised enough to scribble down his carefully prepared words, his curly brown hair, his flat voice working hard not to waver in front of a row of board members.

I’ve only reported on three board meetings so far, but according to my predecessor, Kimberly McDowell, of the people who do speak during the public hearing, they’re rarely students.

Dressed in khaki pants a button-down shirt, Jaskier speaks haltingly from the papers assembled in front of him.

The board leans forward on the long table stretching before them, hands folded, as they listen to Jaskier, who isn’t reaching a conclusive point fast enough. His presentation isn’t polished, and it’s hard to follow, too.

There are a lot of names involved: the principal, the assistant principal, the athletics director. There’s the part where he’s taken out of his leadership class because he was removed from the senior class board for selling T-shirts at a football game, even though he was given permission to do so.

Five minutes into his presentation he’s interrupted by Joseph Casimino, one of the board members.

“We don’t do these kinds of things; that’s why we have administrators,” he says.

Casimino tries to get Jaskier to stop talking, to take his papers and sit down. But Jaskier continues, unshaken.

He walks out from behind the podium and places a packet of papers on the board’s table, at the right end. They are 1,000 signatures he’s collected from students over the past week who want him reinstated to the senior class board. The signatures are glanced at by the person they’re placed in front of, but they’re not passed down the table.

Casimino continues, “Like I said before, this is not our problem.”

Yet, one of the duties of the Board of Education is “to determine staff and student disciplinary cases as legally required.”

According to Casimino, Jaskier doesn’t belong in front of the board because he’s not talking “policy.” Jaskier may not be fitting neatly within the confines of policy, no, but people rarely do.

Casimino said if the board listened to Jaskier’s request—providing an open forum to address his appeal—that then “it would give every student the opportunity to come to the board when they don’t agree with administrator policy.”

Board President Marie MacKay and Trustee Joseph Maciejewski thanked Jaskier for speaking.

“I applaud you for having the courage to stand in front of us,” MacKay said.

Lancaster School District officials would not comment on Jaskier’s presentation.

I wish more students like Jaskier would go to board meetings. And for those who do go, they deserve to be heard and not chastised for speaking. They deserve, at the very least, an appellate body that will be open to them and their requests.

Casimino seemed to have forgotten as he sat there before a student that politics, even at its lowest level, is not about new school buses or budgets or policy on paper. It’s about people. When we forget that in the board room, or in the news room, or wherever we are, that’s when we forget ourselves.

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