Community Service Problems at Pali

By Dexter O'Connell (Former Managing Editor, Former Columnist) [?]

Published: March 13, 2009 and Updated: April 28, 2009
Reprinted From The Pali Tideline
Arch and BuildingCaption: The Palisades High School entrance. Source: Wikipedia

In the early morning of January 10, Wyn Delano stepped up to the PA microphone. He had an announcement in his hand that would dramatically change the paradigm of thought about community service at Pali. He said, “We are tired of the old system. We are organizing a petition in the quad today.” This declaration would tap a rich vein of disgruntlement, disillusion and disgust with the community service system at Pali, and temporarily turn the school on its ear.

The Community Service firestorm has been raging under the radar for months now. Rumblings about the current system first began to manifest themselves at the end of last school year, when former student Board Representative James Bourne began to investigate changing the system. The effort gained momentum this year as graduating seniors examined what they saw as problems in the system. Senior Matt Pakizegee said, “We first looked at some labor laws, and they said it was illegal for schools to require Community Service.” He said that he and his comrades weren’t interested in ending Pali’s service system, though. “We decided that [service] should be more student-driven; we wanted to reform [it], not take it off as a whole.” Pakizegee and other members of the Republican Club began to organize a petition drive. They claim that on the first - and so far only - day of petitioning, they collected 300 signatures.

In an interview, Pakizegee was careful to insist that his work was targeted towards the development of the system. He criticized the current system of service approval, in which Director of Community Service Ms. Gretchen Miller is the sole arbiter of the validity of service hours. He said, “We’re trying to establish a committee consisting of three students, an administrator, a teacher, and a parent to establish the policies to monitor the program. The committee will establish what community service is.” The Board of Directors adopted community service policies several years ago, and they are posted at the Pali High Website, but Pakizegee and his comrades find them vague, unfair, and not beneficial.

At least one of the guidelines is possibly illegal. On the list of “Not-approved service guidelines” is an entry that includes “Religious… programs.” A recent settlement between the Long Beach Unified School District and a Christian legal group called Liberty Counsel declared a student’s community service performed at a church legal, and required the school to give him full credit. The student, Christopher Rand, assisted children in church programs for over 70 hours, all of which were rejected. “You cannot exclude religious or church organizations as a locale for doing… community service activities,” said the director of Liberty Counsel, Mathew Staver.

Besides the doubtful legality of the anti-religious provision, there are further underlying questions about the validity of the community service program as a whole. Recent research conducted by the Tideline suggests that Pali’s use of community service, as a prerequisite for graduation, participation in Prom, and other senior activities is illegal. According to the interpretation of the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act by the California Department of Education, “Schools may not legally require a student to ‘volunteer’ or perform unpaid public servic(e) . . . as a condition of graduation, or as a prerequisite for other school activities.” Pali does not currently require community service as a condition of graduation, though the service policy is worded in a way, which might give some the impression that service is, in fact, required as a condition of graduation. Your diploma is yours, whether service is completed or not; the “graduation” referred to in Pali’s policy is actually the graduation ceremony.

Even so, this is a school activity and one with tremendous significance for most students. Other school activities currently affected by service status are the Senior Trip to Disneyland and the Prom. Two years ago, senior Larry House was denied entrance to the Prom because he lacked service hours. This denial was almost certainly illegal. Clearly, the provision that service may not legally be required “as a prerequisite for other school activities,” was not on the minds of the authorities as they escorted the tuxedoed Mr. House from the ballroom. As of press time, Pali’s law firm, Spector Middleton, was unavailable for comment after repeated e-mails.Read more stories in Student Life

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