KANKAKEE — In the real world, people must follow rules. So too is the case at Kankakee High School, a top official said Wednesday.
At a parents meeting, Superintendent Genevra Walters defended the school’s rules, despite a student backlash.
“Cursing adults is not going to be tolerated. Walking in the hallways when classes are going on cannot be tolerated,” Walters told an audience of a few dozen parents.
She also said a controversial rule banning cellphone use between classes will remain.
“People are planning on phones when they are going to fight. We have to stop that,” Walters said. “A lot of these structures are to make sure students are safe.”
Principal Shari Demitrowicz said without the structure, bottlenecks will develop in hallways.
“Kids will stop and congregate,” she said. “That’s why we don’t want students using cellphones in hallways.”
Over the last two weeks, nearly 1,500 people have signed a petition protesting the rules, a number even higher than the school’s enrollment of 1,250. Officials say they are tightening enforcement after a spate of fights last year.
Some of the opposition to the rules is over the dress code — shoes in particular, Walters said.
On the school district’s website, the dress code states that students must wear shoes that are brown, black, white, navy or maroon. Sandals can be worn in the summer months as long as they have a strap on the back. No flip flops are allowed.
Four years ago, Walters said, the district determined that it was seeing 90 to 95 percent compliance with the dress code through the junior high. So officials quietly decided that it would not worry as much about the shoes as the other parts of the code, although the district still forbade colors such as bright red or orange.
“Here, because they are teenagers, they fight against the rules. You give them a little bit more and then a little bit more and guess what — no one is following the rules,” Walters said.
About an hour into the meeting, one parent complained about the rules and even alleged that an employee forcibly removed headphones from his daughter’s head. He called it assault.
When the man raised his voice and continued to argue against school policies and actions, the superintendent ordered the meeting closed and said administrators could meet with parents individually afterward.
The upset parent stormed out.
Another parent asked the administrators to resume the meeting. Officials agreed to do so, and the meeting continued for another 45 minutes.
Walters told the audience that administrators were at a disadvantage when parents brought up their students’ individual situations. She said officials could not respond in kind because they must follow student privacy rules.
‘FOREIGN LANGUAGE TO ME’
Also at the meeting, parents expressed confusion about the school’s system of competency-based education, which it is phasing in.
“It’s a foreign language to me,” one parent said.
Another said it’s hard to keep track of her child’s progress.
In response, school officials said a good grade is not enough for a student to be prepared for the real world. They said it’s important to ensure that students actually gain skills.
“In order to graduate in a traditional setting, all you need are D-minuses. You can get straight A’s but not have the competencies you need on the ACT or the SAT. We’re not going to give busy work. If you get skills, you’ll get credit,” Walters said.
School board member Jess Gathing said the school places less emphasis on grades with competency-based education. Students don’t move to the next section, he said, until they understand the previous one.
Other parents told administrators their students had not learned about Naviance, which streamlines the college application process. They noted deadlines are fast approaching.
Principal Demitrowicz said the school would make sure students have Naviance accounts.
“We have to train our kids about Naviance. Students can send to multiple universities with one click,” she said.