Who Gets Privilege?

Privilege is a concept that most high school students like the idea of. For the past two years, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, juniors and seniors could leave the building almost whenever they had free time. Students began getting used to that system and were surprised at the beginning of the year when the policy changed to how it was before Covid.

For the first three quarters of this year, the only year-round privileges juniors get is the ability to arrive to school late if they have a first period free and leave early with the last period free. This has caused confusion among many juniors within the school. Many people are for or against juniors getting privileges, and some think the privilege policy should be changed as a whole.

Privilege is a system that is supposed to grant upperclassmen freedom and independence to prepare for adulthood. The only reason juniors had it last year was because there wasn’t enough space in the school for everyone to eat lunch socially distanced. Mark Milliken, one of the school administrators, explains, “during Covid, our goal was to allow students to get out of the building.”

Rebecca Noe, the ORHS principal, thinks privilege is beneficial to responsible students who are able to manage their time. “When I talk to kids who have graduated high school and went to college, one of the biggest things I hear from students… is that they wish they had more practice on actually managing time, beyond just homework at night,” said Noe.

Privilege has been well-loved by students in the past because it has allowed them to have more freedom, especially since most of them can drive. It opens up opportunities like leaving school early on a last period free period or going to your favorite restaurant during lunch. Hannah Muessig (‘22), an alum from ORHS, always loved how privilege gave her more options. “I remember I used to walk downtown, or sometimes go with my friends places… it was really nice to escape for a bit.”

The system changed back to normal because Covid restrictions were lifted. Before Covid, all seniors could get privilege, and juniors had the opportunity to qualify for privilege fourth quarter. Milliken explains how “the decision was made to have it be something of a privilege that is earned later in your high school career to get ready for the more freedoms that kids have after high school.”

There are several students who think the extra freedoms should come at the beginning of junior year, rather than just the last quarter. Emilia Cavicchi (‘24), a junior at the high school, is one of those people. “I feel like we’re old enough now, and a lot of us can drive, so we can leave campus if needed. And I think that there’s not really a reason for them not to trust us.”

Muessig also defended junior privilege. “I think that in my junior year, the classes were more challenging, you had to do more for them, and sometimes depending on the class it wasn’t all stuff you could do in school. There’re also more traditions in your life; you’re playing more leadership roles where maybe you need to go out and get things and sometimes it’s helpful to have those blocks to do that. And honestly, it’s more productive.”

The administrators do have reasons for why juniors don’t get privilege until last quarter this year. “I know [the juniors] are bummed out about it but there is definitely a real reason behind it. Not just ‘let’s be mean to juniors.’” Milliken went on to say, “with that many kids trying to go out, it just made it easier for kids to sneak out, and now it’s much more manageable.”

Many students, however, claim they very rarely saw other students sneaking out or taking advantage of the privilege in place last year. Waverly Oake-Libow (‘23), a senior at the high school, said how last year “there were no incidents that happened and there weren’t a lot of absences, I don’t think.”

Muessig explained how she also almost never saw anyone abusing the system. “There were a lot of people that used it well and also didn’t do anything bad during the [off campus] time.”

Noe thinks that the privilege worked in that it got students out of the school, but she did often see students taking advantage of it. “Did it do the social distancing that we needed? Yes. The problem was whether students would come back or not.”

The one thing everyone does agree on is that privilege should be able to be revoked. Cavicchi thinks that “unless really proven otherwise, [juniors and seniors] should be able to start with it, and then I think it would definitely be fair if some kids needed that privilege revoked if they’re obviously abusing it in any way.”

Oake-Libow gives some examples of what taking advantage of privilege could look like. “I think if a student is consistently absent or is causing harm on campus then yeah, it should be taken away.”

Many students also believe that it would be beneficial to allow privilege to apply to flexes. Cavicchi explains how “if you don’t need help [in any classes], then I don’t see why you have to be somewhere [at school] and just waste your time.”

Oake-Libow also heavily supports the idea of allowing juniors and senior to leave during Flex time. “If you have nowhere to be scheduled for flex, I think that you should be able to leave.”

Noe explains how “the reason we have Flex is because we heard from teachers and students, they needed more time during the day to meet with teachers.” She thinks if students aren’t using Flex to get work done, then there’s no point for flex and she would get rid of it.

Most students within the school believe that both juniors and seniors should have full year privilege, and many administrators have reasons for why they shouldn’t, but will the system actually change in the coming years? Milliken isn’t sure whether it can change or not but does state “I’m always open to listening to students and student input.”

Muessig believes that if juniors got privilege, it would benefit their lives in the future and the success of the school. “As somebody who’s been through Oyster River, one of my favorite things about the school was how much freedom and opportunity we had to try different things that we wanted, and to go out and have that trust, and that trust allowed me to almost be more like an adult and have the freedom that adults do, but also handle some of the responsibilities and I feel like standardizing it and taking it away without any right or reason takes away that part of Oyster River.”

– Micah Bessette