School Board Gets an Ear-Full over Forced Study Hall

The issue of a mandatory study hall packed the South Pasadena School Board chambers, which legally can hold up to 133 people. Photo by Steve Whitmore

The South Pasadena Unified School District Board of Education Tuesday evening listened as scores of students and parents criticized school officials for holding fast to a mandatory study hall policy imposed on high school freshman and sophomores.

The School Board chambers were packed Tuesday evening with more than 100 students, parents and even teachers that were there to plead with the board to “give students a voice to choose” an elective over study hall. 18 students, parents and teachers told the board that making study hall mandatory was taking away the choice students could make for an elective such as choir, drama and band that has proved to be a life-saver.

“This is a very complex issue,” School Board President Jon Primuth told the gathered crowd that applauded after each speaker told the board the policy was misguided. Primuth even commented that the board had never had “this many parents” at a School Board meeting.

The School Board put the issue on the agenda, so the public had an opportunity to voice its concerns, which it did, and give the board a chance to discuss “the difficult issue” amongst   themselves during open session, which it did. The board was not prepared to take any action regarding the issue Tuesday evening, according to Primuth. The issue was for discussion purposes only, Primuth kept reminding the gathered crowd.

The evening started with one young student who said he suffered from severe depression on a daily basis, but it was choir that pulled him through. It was choir that turned his life around and taking that away would be detrimental to his well-being. Another young student broke down, crying, during her presentation to the board, saying that her elective was “a life-saver.” And still another young sophomore told the board that on somedays, the elective “was the only reason I got out of bed.”

Katherine Chan addressed the South Pasadena School Board Tuesday, encouraging the members to abolish a mandatory study hall requirement at the high school. Photo by Steve Whitmore

Another student, Alexandra Chan, explained it this way: “We are not mindless information regurgitating machines. We find humanity and comfort through communities fostered by such programs and learn to be better people because of it… We’ve had enough, and it is time you listen to us.”

At odds is that although study hall for freshman and sophomores was part of the high school schedule “for generations,” according to District Superintendent Dr. Geoff Yantz, it was loosely administered. Students could take an elective and get out of taking a mandatory study hall. Primuth referred to the opposing issues as a “soft mandatory study hall” policy compare with the more recent “hard mandatory study hall” policy. The more recent hardening of the policy was brought about to build in consistency, equitability and budgetary concerns, among other issues.

And if that wasn’t complex enough, there is an exemption list that accompanies the mandatory study hall policy. This list contains certain courses that present a pathway to a career, among other requirements, that allow the student to get out of taking study hall.

Parent Katherine Chan of Alexandra acknowledged the policy is complex, but it should be abolished for the sake of the children.

“Tonight, you will hear stories from kids telling us how the music programs enrich and enhance their high school experience; how they benefit from the musical, social, emotional support and the teamwork from participating their beloved music programs,” Chan told the School Board. “Testimonials from parents and students of other elective courses and clubs will share how the high school elective offerings are integral to quality education and how the programs help the students become well-rounded citizens.”

Chan continued: “It is apparent that Mandatory Study Hall policy does not sit well with students and parents, because the enforcement of the policy has blocked the students from taking the classes they desire, which effectively reduced enrollment in music programs and other elective courses, and additionally hindered their growth, exposure and development.”

The public hearing session lasted for one hour. The board discussed the issue with the over-riding sentiment to explore “any and all possibilities to allow students the flexibility of choosing an elective over a mandatory study hall.”

Also, Primuth wanted to get more information about how the exemption list was created. Since there was no official action taken, these and other suggestions regarding mandatory study hall are left up to the School District Administration to follow through, which Yantz indicated would occur.