A group of student leaders stand or sit together and smile at the camera

Renton Student Leaders Raise Awareness of Admin Bullying Them, Educators

by Ari Robin McKenna

In a stunning display of intellectual prowess, courage, and unity, five members of Hazen High School’s Associated Student Body (ASB) gave stirring testimony at the Renton School District board meeting Wednesday, in defense of themselves and two educators they say are being bullied by first-year principal Ashley Landes. Despite being told by a district official in the days leading up to the board meeting that they might “lose their voice” if they spoke up in such a way, the students delivered passionate yet measured assessments on their perspective of events. Their testimony from the center of the auditorium earned raucous applause from the sizable crowd while board members and Renton Superintendent Damien Pattenaude looked on from the performance hall stage.

“Before we begin, I would like to apologize if any of us appear to be nervous, because we were told that speaking with you today, as well as our attendance here, could risk our college acceptances and awards,” began Anton Maghirang, an executive board member of ASB, who went on to summarize the group’s grievances. “During the last few months of working closely with certain members of our administration, we have repeatedly been mistreated. We have made efforts to make our issues addressed or solved, but we are tired of having the same discussion time and time again, as we are here to be the voice of the students. We are here today to ask for support.”

ASB Executive Board Member Anton Maghirang addresses the superintendent, board, and audience in the Renton IKEA Performing Arts Center. (Photo: Ari Robin McKenna)

Marcela Alfaro, ASB treasurer, detailed how ASB funds were used to send three educators to the Washington Activity Coordinators Association (WACA). After ASB leaders signed off on the funds, they were told that the ASB bookkeeper who they work with closely would be replaced by another teacher. When ASB pushed back on the grounds that this large expense would no longer benefit ASB, Alfaro said the admin edited meeting minutes, sent the alternate teacher they chose to a conference on ASB’s dime without its full consent, and forbade further contact with ASB’s bookkeeper or use of the ASB room.

“Not allowing students to enter the ASB office limits the students’ and student bodies’ right to get help about payments and asking questions about certain ASB activities,” said Alfaro. “As student leaders, we understand change, but we have the right to be informed of certain changes being made prior to the day that these changes are being implemented.”

Griffin Dickman, elected ASB president, said, “There’s been a repeated pattern of abusing their power over the students by certain members of this administration.”

He provided a disturbing example: “Three days before our school’s Martin Luther King assembly, Anton and I were pulled into an office with our ASB bookkeeper and assistant principal, where we were told by our administration that they had nothing prepared for this assembly, and they wanted to use student funding to purchase a $250 video. … When we asked why there was no other plan in place, or if there was another solution, we were told this was our only option, and we have to purchase this video. Our assistant principal then went on to have Anton and I take fake minutes that state we motioned and seconded the approval of this request. Then, we were told we must text our executive board group chat and tell everyone to vote yes on this video. We were told not to tell them details, just to have them vote yes so our administration could say we conducted this poll of the student body.”

Dickman continued, “As student body president, it is my job to accurately and fairly represent the students, and I cannot do that without their voices.”

Dickman decided to conduct his own survey. He reached out to club presidents, athletes, and other students who work with admin directly for one reason or another; he said 90.9% of those surveyed stated that this administration has made it more difficult for their groups to complete tasks.

Dickman continued, “Participants have stated this administration has been uninvolved in any activities regarding clubs or athletics, and has provided minimal support or communication to the group regarding updates to certain policies. Those who participated stated they have been restricted to the point where they have become discouraged from planning events, fundraisers, and any other projects.”

Speaking quickly to stay within the three-minute public time limit, Dickman went on to talk about the “atmosphere of fear” admin has created in just seven months, saying that student ownership over their own activities has suffered. “Students have lost their ambition toward making school a more inclusive community, because this administration has demonstrated time and time again they do not want that. They have shown this first by shutting down our schools’ gender-neutral bathrooms and converting them into staff restrooms with little to no communication for the population they were designed for. They created a tardy policy that has been proven to negatively impact the attendance of our Latinx community. They are aware of this policy, how it disproportionately affects these students, but still choose to continue using this policy. They’ve set up clear walls and boundaries and have left our student body disconnected from staff members and their loved activities. They have minimized student voices by no longer giving the students any platform to make their voices heard.”

Senior Class President Isabella Gordon spoke about how those members of Hazen’s 3% Black population who are in the BSU are the only school group responsible for a school-wide presentation. (Photo: Ari Robin McKenna)

Isabella Gordon, the senior class president and a Black Student Union (BSU) member, spoke about how the BSU adviser was “driven to the point of resignation on Feb. 1 due to feeling unsupported by the administration since the beginning of the school year.” During Gordon’s speech and afterward, she detailed how the BSU was the only club in school expected to run an assembly for the entire school, an MLK assembly. Without specific instructions from admin, BSU members spent time producing a video centering Hazen student voices, but were told flatly that it wasn’t good enough.

Gordon went on to say, “It has been frustrating trying to communicate and find a solution to all these issues when we aren’t being listened to and are met with defensiveness and intimidation. These circumstances have caused us to have a lack of trust with our ASB adviser and administration and has made it more difficult for us to do our jobs as student voices. And the lack of communication has made it so that we don’t know what we need to do and lack the guidance to do it.”

Kya Baker, the ASB secretary, member of the BSU, and managing editor of Hazen’s school paper, The Kilt, said she’s well aware of “the power of student voice.” After stressing how important it is for Black students at Hazen to feel a sense of community and belonging, Baker went on to summarize the ASB’s frustrations, before bringing down the house:

“This is our last resort: to come to you. We. Need. Your. Help. We cannot do this without you. We refuse to have another lackluster meeting where promises are made but not kept. If that is what results from this address, then know you have failed us as a district. We are not being harsh, nor irrational, nor hostile, and it’s high time that our desires as student leaders of Hazen are taken seriously. All we’re asking for is a proper evaluation of our administrative team and the actions they have done thus far that have had a negative impact on our school community. We know you have the power to create change in our community.”

There was resounding applause when Baker ceded the mic — with many in the audience standing. A Hazen math teacher came over to congratulate the group of speakers, while other audience members still shook their heads and clapped.

The Emerald caught up with the Hazen ASB executive team outside the auditorium, and ASB DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) Consultant and student Sofia Kaiaua said the group didn’t feel comfortable about addressing concerns to admin because admin seemed intent on getting them to incriminate their teachers and advisers in some way. Dickman said many teachers are intimidated and plan to resign, and that they are not even allowed to speak with the ASB bookkeeper anymore, and that admin “literally locked her in her office.”

The ASB executive board singled out the former ASB bookkeeper and the former BSU adviser — both Black women — for praise, and as needing to be defended. “Both the [ASB] bookkeeper and the [BSU] adviser are literally adored and loved by every single student at Hazen. They put in 110% all day every day. … Even if it’s not their job, they still do what they have to do to create a welcoming environment for our school. … These educators do so much, and the fact that they were pushed aside, ignored, and didn’t feel supported in their community after spending years doing so is just very disappointing for us as a student body,” said Baker. Maghirang added, “They allowed us to put our trust in them … and that is what our admin team are lacking: We have no trust in them.”

Julianna Dauble, the president of the Renton Education Association, has a son at Hazen and used to teach two of the ASB speakers. She was thrilled to see her former students being change-makers, and mused incredulously that the district had selected Hazen’s new principal, Landes, on its side of a pre-bargaining DEI task force. She is currently working with the BSU adviser on filing a formal complaint, and once the facts are established — potentially — a grievance. Dauble did go on to characterize Hazen Principal Landes’ actions — which she acknowledged to still be “allegations” — as “really bad … unethical, immoral, unprofessional,” and said building reps are organizing “a number of other actions.”

Editors’ Note: This article was updated on 03/11/2023. The phrase “which she acknowledged to still be ‘allegations’” was added to Julianna Dauble’s statement to provide additional context.

Ari Robin McKenna worked as an educator and curriculum developer in Brooklyn, New York; Douala, Cameroon; Busan, South Korea; Quito, Ecuador; and Seattle, Washington, before settling in South Seattle. He writes about education for the Emerald. Contact him through his website.

📸 Featured Image: Top row: Kya Baker, Sofia Kaiaua, Isabella Gordon. Middle row: Griffin Dickman, Anton Maghirang. Bottom row: Marcela Alfaro, Avery Rigtrup. (Photo: Ari Robin McKenna)

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