The first day of school can be full of surprises.
But this year, when Champlin Park High School junior Loveisajoy Pha learned of a new, more restrictive hall pass system at her high school, she was more surprised than usual. And not at all pleased.
“When I was first given the pink slip, I thought it was a joke,” Pha said of the half-page sheet that contains the hall passes, which are required for trips to the restroom. “Especially for women … they have feminine needs.”
What some students, such as Pha, say is most upsetting about the new pass system is the 12 blank slots on each pass – which represents the limit for leaving the classroom during the three-month trimester. The school principal, however, says the new system is creating a safer environment and keeping students in class.
In order to leave, including using the bathroom, students must
receive approval from a teacher and then write down the location where they’re going, the time they leave and the time they return.
As the first week passed, students spoke passionately about their dismay, posting on social media and communicating their concerns to teachers. The girls’ bathrooms became crowded during times in between classes.
“You can’t take up your passing time from class to class,” said Pha, who had already used 25 percent of her passes by the end of the first week of school. “Everyone is going to the bathroom, not just you.”
Four days into the school year, senior August Bengtson created a post on social media in response to the student concern. Bengtson asked students to “like” or comment on a post on Facebook as a sign of support. He also urged students not to be upset with Principal Michael George, “because he is just doing what he thinks is best for the students,” Bengtson wrote.
“It got shared so many times and got over 500 likes combined on Twitter and Facebook,” Bengtson said of the post. Bengtson then brought students’ concerns to a meeting with the principal, and after the meeting, announced on Facebook that they had a productive conversation.
In an interview, George said the administration adopted the new hall pass system in an effort to improve safety and education at the high school by keeping more students in class and out of the hallways.
When students used a pass under the old system, they had access to roam the hallways, according to George. “We believe we were responding to too many things that were happening in the bathroom,” he said.
The new hall pass system has been in the works for three years, George said. The staff council decided in August it was something to pursue this school year, he said.
This same type of system is used in other high schools in the Anoka- Hennepin School District as well as in some of the feeder schools, such as Jackson Middle School in Champlin, according to George.
“We need structure in this place of 3,000 wonderful young adults, and we believe that this pass system, while it may not be completely flawless, it is having a positive result in terms of having a more safe and welcoming environment,” George said. “Ultimately, keeping kids in class.”
George said he understands students might be frustrated or concerned without knowing the reasoning behind the change, and hopes that if students are having challenges with the new system, they would speak to an adult in the school.
But for some students, the new system felt like too drastic of a change.
“I just think it was an extreme way to try to combat the mischief going on in the bathroom,” Bengtson said.
Bengtson sees an opportunity to compromise, suggesting an alternate system that he experienced in middle school. That system had students receive approval from teachers and document when they left the classroom, he said, while still giving students the option of using the bathroom once per day without running out of passes. He said this is a good idea because staff in the halls would have the same information they have now under the current system.
The current system, however, puts students’ bathroom needs against their ability to stay in the classroom and get a good education, he said.
“That doesn’t seem like a choice students should have to make,” he said.