A vote this week by the Natick School Committee to ban the use of mp3 players in academic areas of the town high school was a disappointment to students who lobbied against the policy, the student who spearheaded the lobbying effort said.
But senior Sean Flaherty said gaining the attention of officials in the debate is a testimony to what young people can do if they organize behind a single purpose.
“In the grand scheme of things, the iPod issue is pretty small,” said Flaherty in an interview. “If we can do this over an iPod, imagine what we can do over a big issue.”
He said he is glad that school officials treated students with respect and listened to them.
“I’m glad we’re not looked on as just punky teenagers,” Flaherty said.
Flaherty led the fight on behalf of students, appearing on local TV news broadcasts and in newspaper articles as a voice of dissent. The students gathered 400 petition signatures and nationwide coverage in the effort to be allowed to use mp3 players at the school. Flaherty attracted 899 supporters of the Facebook page he created for the iPod issue.
The School Committee delayed an earlier vote on the policy because of the students' concerns. But on Monday the committee voted 4 to 3 to keep music players out of academic areas.
The decision came after more than two hours of discussion. Though students and administrators agreed on some aspects of the new electronic devices policy, students said they wanted to continue to use their iPods during study halls.
“I know some of people feel like it was a defeat,” said Natick Superintendent Peter Sanchioni. "Study halls are really an academic period. We want students to be focused on academics."
Both students and administrators said the negotiation process surrounding the issue was marked by respect. Sanchioni said he rewrote the policy after hearing students’ concerns, and seniors can now use their mp3 players in one area of the library in addition to the school’s cafeteria, gymnasium, and courtyard, which was already allowed.
“Ultimately, the change we made in the policy was a result of listening to their concerns,” said Sanchioni.
But Flaherty said he couldn’t endorse the change since it only benefits seniors.
“I didn’t think it was fair to all four grades to give iPod access to seniors. This has been a movement backed by all four grades,” he said.
He said students wanted to be able to listen to music during study halls since it often allows people to both concentrate and decompress.
“A lot of kids use [study] as a relaxation period. High school is stressful. Even if you only take 15 minutes to relax with your iPod, students need it to relax,” he said.
But administrators didn’t buy the argument after reading numerous studies, said Sanchioni, adding that teachers can allow mp3 player use at their own discretion.
Despite the vote this week, Flaherty said he’s looking for other ways to remain active in positive change at the high school. He said he’s been talking with Sanchioni about being part of the district’s anti-bullying initiatives.
Sanchioni said starting next month, the school will be recruiting groups of student leaders to help change the culture surrounding bullying.
“It is our belief that the only successful way to proactively deal with bullying and interrupt the cycle is through student leaders,” he said. “Putting the iPod issue aside, we look forward to working with the students to organize a focused student-led anti-bullying team.”
Flaherty said being in the spotlight came naturally to him because of his experience teaching martial arts, which requires him to be composed and outgoing in front of kids and their parents. He said showing respect paid off.
“I really appreciate the fact that he’s been willing to compromise with us,” he said.
Megan McKee can be reached at email@example.com.