SAMOHI — Assemblies held to remind Santa Monica High School students about how to act while on campus ironically led to the cancellation of the school’s homecoming pep rally after several students engaged in what administrators said was disruptive and disrespectful behavior.

The decision by Samohi Principal Eva Mayoral to cancel this Friday’s pep rally has generated e-mails and calls from both parents and students who are saying the punishment does not fit the crime.

It is Mayoral’s second controversial decision since assuming the role as Samohi’s top administrator this school year. During the first weeks of school, Mayoral, who was formerly the principal at John Adams Middle School, instituted a new dress code that had some kids crying foul.

Mayoral did not return phone calls seeking comment for this story.

In an e-mail to parents, Mayoral explained her decision to cancel the rally, saying that some students ignored several requests by adults to “cease inappropriate, loud and disrespectful group behavior.”

“This behavior derailed our mandated rules assemblies. Like you, I am reasonable,” Mayoral added. “I don’t expect perfection. I do, however, expect that everyone on this campus be treated with dignity, compassion and respect. This holds true for students, as well as adults.”

Mayoral and school Superintendent Sandra Lyon said maintaining safety was the main reason for canceling the pep rally, which was to be held in the campus’ Greek Theatre Friday. The homecoming dance was still held Saturday, Oct. 5, and the homecoming game is scheduled for Oct. 11 against Morningside High School at Santa Monica College’s Corsair Field.

“I completely understand the parents’ frustration, as well as those individual students who were behaving appropriately, that the pep rally is being canceled,” Lyon, who attended the meeting when the decision to cancel the rally was made, wrote in an e-mail to the Daily Press Friday. “I am not a fan of blanket discipline and I can assure you neither are Samohi administrators. There are times, however, when the issue is bigger than just a handful of students and this is one of them.

“If students were this disruptive and unwilling to follow administrative directions in a controlled, information-only assembly, how can we believe they will conduct themselves appropriately in an assembly designed to rev them up?” she continued. “I know parents expect us to keep their children safe and to create a learning community where all are treated with respect.”

Some parents are questioning whether the safety of the students is in jeopardy. No police officers were called to the campus last week during the rules assemblies and no damage was reported. However, at least one student was slightly injured, according to one parent whose daughter attended the assembly.

Some say this is a case of a new administration not understanding its students, who have often acted out during the rules assemblies since many have been through the presentations before. In addition to Mayoral, all but one of Samohi’s assistant principals are new to their positions.

“This is too heavy handed,” parent Dana Asher said of the punishment. Her daughter is a sophomore on the nationally-recognized cheerleading squad, which has been named state champs five years in a row, from 2007 to 2011.

“This really punishes a certain population, like these athletes and these cheerleaders and the Associated Student Body,” added Asher, who said some cheerleaders have already spent money on outfits and purchasing music for the rally. “The cheerleaders are always out there supporting everyone else. This is really the one time where the whole school gets to see how amazing they are.”

Members of the water polo squad were looking forward to their traditional “Greenie Run” in which they paint themselves green and run through the Greek in their swimsuits. In an e-mail to Mayoral, Samohi senior class President Alex Harros, who is on the water polo team, pleaded with her to allow the water polo players to at least run at the homecoming game. He also said students have begun posting messages on social-media site Facebook calling for a walkout.

Parents who spoke with the Daily Press said they understand that students who acted disrespectful need to be punished, but they question Mayoral’s final decision. They suggested taking away other privileges or having students write essays reflecting on how their behavior impacted others, including fellow students. They lament the loss of the pep rally, which they feel serves as a way to bring students from various cliques together.

A teacher who did not want their name to be published out of fear of losing their job said students are visibly upset about the decision, particularly the seniors.

“I’ve never seen so many sad students in my life,” the teacher said. “They’ve really taken it to heart. … I think the administration needs to learn that we have a larger problem here. The students simply don’t know them yet. The administration needs to introduce themselves to these students to build mutual respect. They simply haven’t done that.”

Parent Lisa Balfus regretted the cancellation of the rally but defended Mayoral, whom she believes is a compassionate principal who has made herself available to students. Balfus is president of the Samohi PTSA but was speaking to the Daily Press on her own behalf.

“I’ve seen [Mayoral] during registration go up to kids in line and introduce herself to each one of them,” Balfus said. “She makes herself available as much as possible.”

She said many Samohi students attended JAMS while Mayoral was in charge there and should be familiar with her.

“Ultimately it’s about respect,” Balfus added. “You have to have safety and respect.”

Some students agree. Sophie Horwitz-Hirsch, class of 2014, said she thought cancellation of the rally was justified.

“People were really rude to the administration during the rules lecture, so I see nothing wrong with taking it away. Don’t deal it if you can’t take it,” she said.

“For the most part, the general behavior at the rules assembly was, by far, some of the most immature actions I’ve seen of the collected school populace,” added Jason Oyakawa, a senior. “Ironically, the assembly which many viewed as unnecessary or annoying would’ve been finished much faster if not for the immature behavior. Some of those actions include applauding for no purpose other than to create disturbance, and talking over the speaker.”

 

editor@smdp.com

 

Samohi student Francesca Billington contributed to this report.

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