by Sunil Rao (’11)
“I thought it would be done by the end of first quarter,” said Head Prefect Anirudha Balasubramanian, but “it took until the end of the third quarter.”
St. Albans new policy on student cell phone use was introduced and announced this past winter to raucous applause at lunch. The policy change comes as a welcome surprise. Students commonly rued the infamous ‘two-week’ policy; from now one, the school will only hold a student’s cell phone for a one day from the occurrence of the cell phone use (or misuse). The change is also by all accounts one of Student Council’s most significant individual achievements over the last few years. However, the change took far longer to become a reality than even members of the Student Council predicted, as Balasubramanian said. “The text of the original proposition has been around a long time,” he said. Balasubramian and Senior Class President Todd Bracken offered several explanations for the long wait.
“The Student Council is pretty organized,” Bracken said, and “brought [the cell phone issue] up at the beginning of the year. “But, the faculty just never got on top of it [until recently].” Since the beginning of the year, members of the student council have had a clear idea of how they wanted to change the cell phone policy. Implementation of their plan, however, required faculty approval. The cell phone issue did not reach the top of the agenda at faculty meetings second semester. When teachers decided on the one-day confiscation, even the Prefects were surprised. They had been advocating for “[multiple] 7 o’clocks instead of [long-term] confiscation,” Bracken said. The faculty’s decision was better than Student Council could have hoped for, though the decision came long after the Student Council would have liked it.
Student Council also had little opportunity to revisit or reassess their management of the cell phone because of this year’s much-anticipated dances. In fact, Student Council organized the same dance (think “Nautical Voyage” and “After the Storm”) three times. As a result, work “kept getting pushed back,” Bracken said. Bracken also cited a general lack of meeting time in explaining why the change took so long. The council meets regularly only once a week, and Bracken suggested that it should meet more often. But more meetings, he admitted, would be “hard to organize” because prefects are involved in many other time-consuming activities during the week, especially sports.
Balasubramanian echoed some of Bracken’s concerns. “There is a week, sometimes two weeks in between meetings,” he said, which certainly slows down the Student Council. The Council also must deal with other more mundane or trivial matters, such as dance-planning or the use of “bike-racks” at school, he said. Balasubramanian also blamed what he termed an “aversion to writing.” He thought that a “more concrete examination of ideas,” could have sped up the cell phone policy change and made the Council more efficient in changing school policies. “Sometimes we get burdened in discussion,” he said. Modifying the model or methodology of Student Council “may be something to look into.” Balasubramanian wanted to “make meetings longer” and require “more preparation before each meeting,” But a more legislative format, he said, has essentially been “deemed too formal for the Student Council,” and would also “shatter the intimacy” associated with the institution. He also acknowledged that such changes might not be in line with “the identity” of Student Council.
Bracken recognized that the Council “maybe could have pushed harder,” to pass the new cell phone policy.” However, he pointed out that “people tend to overestimate the power that the Student Council has.” Balasubramanian said that though different perceptions of the council’s true responsibility abound, “[Student Council] [doesn’t] make laws; we simply make suggestions to the administrative engine.” Balasubramanian credited the Student Council’s chair, Upper School Head Mr. Paul Barrett, for providing his guidance on “what will and will not work,” or jive with the rest of the faculty or administration. His “insight,” Balasubramanian said, was vital to the creation of the new cell phone policy. But as was the case with the new cell phone policy’s passage, administration and faculty have the final word on all that Student Council attempts to accomplish.