Students oppose Student Council decision made by administration

Anne Rogers, Sports Editor

A decision made by Principal Brent Riessen involving Student Council has drawn immense concern from students. More than half of the 40 attendees at the school board meeting Feb. 10 were high school students. Most were there to listen or to make speeches involving the decision. The school board listened to the speeches but did not act on what was said at that time.

In December 2013, it was brought to the attention of the executive board on Student Council that a picture of a class officer at a party where alcohol was involved was circulating social media sites. The board decided it was an inappropriate event that class officers should not be partaking in.

Student Council adviser Chris Beguhn proceeded to have a meeting with the individual about the situation, and if the student would be honest about the picture, the board would be more open about letting that individual stay on Student Council. Following the meeting, the executive board decided that the officer should be removed.

Riessen then called the board into a meeting and informed them that he believed the officer should not be removed from office. The executive board, however, felt as though they followed protocol.

“It says in our Constitution that our adviser has the ability to remove an officer for a variety of different reasons,” senior and Student Council President Jeremy Caracci said at the board meeting. “Things like lying and not being a representation of Johnston High School can get you removed. We felt, and she (our adviser) felt, that it was not appropriate for that person to be an officer anymore.”

The student was not named at the board meeting.

If an administrator wants to make a case to put an officer back on Student Council, there is an appeal process that is laid out in the Constitution. The administrator makes the case, and then there is a vote and a discussion between all the members of Student Council. Based upon that discussion and vote, it is decided what will happen with the situation and the officer. Riessen did not follow through with this process. He made the executive decision to place the officer back on without the vote and discussion.

“As a student, and as a lot of the students here, we feel like that is an inappropriate measure of power by our principal,” Caracci said during his speech. “And we feel like, as a student-run organization, the students should have a voice of what happens. The Constitution that we have set, that we have amended, that we voted on, should be upheld in situations like this.”

The board accepted Beguhn’s resignation as the Student Council adviser at the board meeting. “She feels as though if the student voice isn’t being heard, she’s not doing her job,” Caracci said during the meeting.

Others voiced their respect for Beguhn. “The problem is we’re not just losing an adviser here,” senior and activities director Jon Caracci said while making his speech. “We’re losing a role model and someone we look up to. I can honestly say that in the six years I have been at Johnston, there is no one I look up to more and no one who has taught me more than Mrs. Beguhn.”

Different students voiced their opinion and perspectives on the matter at hand. “The voice of the students was taken away, and the extensive input the executive board gave Mr. Riessen was disregarded,” junior and executive board member Ellie Marckmann said at the meeting. “Student Council has been successful because it is student led. It gives students the opportunity to voice their opinions and make a difference in the school, but because of what happened recently, our right to make decisions and hold each other accountable has seemed to disappear.”

Junior Marcus Miller, another executive board member, pointed out that Student Council has always followed the Constitution when dealing with situations. “This is the only time in history that this Constitution, which has been in place for 12 years, has not been followed, “ Miller said during his speech. “However, this time, our voice was taken away from us, and our Constitution was completely ignored. It was ignored all because of one member’s desire and resources to evade the way Student Council operates.”

As a class officer, junior EmmaGrace Walter asked in her speech that Student Council still be allowed to be run by students, rather than by administration. “Let us learn to be leaders now, so that when we leave JHS we have leadership skills that prepare us to be leaders in the world,” Walter said.

Senior Callie Alvarez, a Student Council member, announced her concern at the meeting with the supposed lack of clarity Riessen had with Student Council members when going about the process.

Sophomore class president Carly Campbell recognized her frustration with the example this incident sets for future years. “If kids know they can go complain to the administration and get whatever they want, what stops them from doing whatever they want?” Campbell said while making her speech. “Kids can go drink and do drugs without fear of consequence, and that goes for all things, not just Student Council.”

Two students who are not affiliated with Student Council also came to talk to the school board. Junior Troy Ikeda and senior Pratyusha Bujimalla both spoke on behalf of the student body not in Student Council and to represent their views on the incident.

“By circumventing the appeals process, the Student Council Constitution, and continuously fighting to ensure that his actions were upheld, Principal Riessen has implicitly condoned and perhaps even encouraged the illegal and unethical actions undertaken by this student, contributing in a larger part to the reputation being built,” Ikeda said during his speech. “In his wake, we’ve lost an independent, student-run organization. I cannot express how concerning that is for me as an independent member of the student body.”

Bujimalla acknowledged the DRAGON assembly all high school students attended in January. She pointed out that Beguhn as well as everyone on Student Council represent the traits recognized in the assembly. “I know that I have not heard the administration’s side in today’s matter, but not having an adviser as committed as Mrs. Beguhn is to her students and to the school, is a great loss,” Bujimalla said while making her speech. “I am so proud to be led by an organization that proves, day in and day out, that these personality traits are not lost.”

As of now, the school board will not take action because of the statute of limitations, the set time after an event that legal proceedings may be initiated. The issue, however, may reappear on the agenda of a later meeting. School board president Greg Dockum expressed  the impression the students had made. “I think it was another in a long line of examples that we are lucky to have some of the best and brightest students in our district, and they are, to their credit, actively engaged in student life at Johnston High School,” Dockum said after the meeting.

Riessen and Beguhn both declined to comment.

Laura Dillavou, the Communications and Marketing Coordinator, commented for the district on the issue. “The concerns presented by members of the student council and other Johnston High School students are matters of district personnel and a student,” Dillavou said. “Information regarding personnel and students is confidential and we have no further comment.”

After the meeting, Walter reflected on the issue and the speeches made. “The speeches were a good representation of what Student Council and students around the school feel about this issue,” Walter said.

Senior Melinda Paszkiewicz went to the meeting, but she did not make a speech. “I thought that the students did really well in saying what they believed about the situation,” Paszkiewicz said.