Frustrated by an administration that refuses to address serious campus issues, Peary Middle School parents, students, and educators are organizing for change. On March 21, they held a picket before school to inform and engage more parents in the fight.

“Peary is my home,” said teacher Kim Oganeku, who attended the school as a child. “It’s one of the oldest schools in the district and has a proud tradition of being a thriving neighborhood school. I’m out here today to fight for that community, because I can tell you from a lifetime of experience that it’s a shadow of its former self under the current principal.” 

Over the past few months, parents, students, and educators have been working to identify solutions to their concerns and together are demanding:

  • A collaborative and consistently enforced discipline plan to make the campus more peaceful. 
  • Greater student voice in decision making, including which electives are offered.
  • An expanded number of special events, school clubs, and field trips to enrich the learning environment.

When Oganeku was a student at Peary, the school had a variety of student activities and traditions, including a “pin and ribbon” ceremony that uplifted students midyear for their achievements. Parents, students, and teachers are calling for special activities to be planned collaboratively and enforced by the Shared Decision Making Council to make sure they go forward.

“Students and staff deserve to feel safe and supported in school,” Peary Magnet Coordinator Darius Frelix said. “We demand consistency and commitment to supervision for students’ safety, not just when there’s a crisis. Long-term, we are demanding that the school discipline plan is created collaboratively by parents, students, and union members, and enforced by the Shared Decision Making Council.”

In the wake of the rising demand for change, Peary administration is displaying a disturbing pattern of trying to silence student voices:

  • In February, eighth-grade magnet students delivered a petition to administration signed by more than 300 students, educators, and parents that outlined their concerns and vision for change. Students said that the administration responded by snatching the petition out of their hands and threatened punishment for their action.
  • On March 7, more than 50 students, parents, and educators attended the meeting of Peary’s Shared Decision Making Council to ask the group to create a new school safety and discipline plan. The principal tried to change the agenda and stop students from speaking. The administrator reportedly said, “This is not the place for student concerns.” One student was removed from the council on a technicality in an effort to silence his voice. It took more than an hour to get the administrator to allow students to speak.
  • On March 8, a group of students protested the fact that the boys’ locker room is unlocked every morning, while the girls’ is not. Instead of addressing this blatant gender disparity, administration suspended one of the student protestors, Scarlett Carranza, on trumped-up charges.

Despite the administration’s best attempts to shut down their advocacy, students, parents, and educators are scoring wins: The girls’ locker room is now open in the morning, and administrators have been out on campus supervising before and after school and during lunch and passing periods to make the campus more peaceful. And the day before the picket, the local district said that the student’s suspension has been repealed. 

Scarlett Carranza and her mother Sandra. Scarlett was suspended for speaking out about a gender disparity at school.

Next up for the Peary organizing: Attending the Shared Decision Making Council on April 4, where parents, students, and educators will reiterate their demands for the school. Shared Decision Making Councils — made of educators, parents, students, and administration — are critical vehicles for change and advocacy on campus. School-based leadership councils (won through the 1989 UTLA strike) are a contractual right and a powerful way to enforce policies.

“We are seeing progress because we are taking action collectively,” said Sandra Carranza, the parent of the suspended student. “We are going to keep fighting until this is the school our community deserves. I was a student at Peary, and I know what a beautiful community this can be.”