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Cleveland Constitution Ratification: The fine print

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Even with the newest revision of the Cleveland Constitution, controversy still lurks.

This year dates the amendment of our Constitution, a 46-year-old archive whose crucial words comprise the school’s integrity and document the laws created and enforced by the student body. Yet students carelessly dismiss this newest draft, ignorant to the dire impact these words will have on their future volition.

The revision of this document embodies everything from the improvement of language inconsistencies to the implication of a provision that will require prospective student body presidents to enroll in the leadership class during their junior year. Other notable changes include the addition of documented responsibilities involving club establishment and the deduction of a clause prescribing the enrollment of all student body cabinet officers in the leadership class, with the exception of the student body president. Likewise, the 2016 Constitution implicates the escalation of minimum Grade Point Average (GPA) requirements for student body and class officers, from a 2.0 with no failing classes or a 2.5 with one failing class to a 2.5 and 3.0 respectively.

“The elected officers for two or three years have wanted to deal with needed revisions in [the Constitution] to correspond with the actual practice of the way Executive Council and the leadership classes are run,” said Jan Watt, special projects coordinator.

This encapsulates not only current rules of procedure, but also the removal of positions and organizations that are no longer serviceable. “There used to be a Judicial Council where a student, if they were suspended or had a problem with the administration, could appeal and get voted back into school,” said Amanda Kimball, clubs and committees commissioner, “but that hasn’t been used in 15 years.”

Kimball, who groomed the majority of the revised document, described the process as a consolidation of words to universalize the language used in the document. Conjointly, said Kimball, “We included the student body in there as the actual representation of every student that attends Cleveland High School.”

“The biggest controversy about change in [the Constitution] was requirements for being in the leadership class and student body president,” said Kimball. “As we had it before, if you had been on a class cabinet at any point, you could be student body president.” If the 2016 Constitution is ratified, a candidate for student body president will only be eligible after having completed one year of junior/senior leadership in her junior year, alongside enrollment as a member of the senior class in the year she serves. The only exception to this regulation is the option for co-presidency, in which a candidate who has no experience in a leadership class runs with another candidate who meets expected qualifications. However, both candidates must have prior experience with a leadership rank, be it registration in a leadership class or the maintenance of a student body officer position. Both presidents must apply and be accepted to junior/senior leadership in their senior year to conserve their positions.

To constitute ratification, a vote must comprise the approval from two-thirds of the student body who cast their vote. If the revised draft does not receive that, Cleveland will maintain its current Constitution. Similarly, student-elected amendments to the Constitution follow suit; petitions to the current Constitution must receive signatures from 10 percent of the student body or be approved by the majority of the Executive Council to be considered for ratification. The last approved amendments were in 2008, accruing eight years’ worth of changes in this draft of the Constitution. 

In voting, one must vote all or nothing, said Watt. Students cannot vote ‘yes’ on individual clauses. If a student disagrees with a particular amendment, that student can vote ‘yes’ on the Constitution and petition to remove that change later, or they can choose to vote ‘no’ on the entire revised draft.

Students were scheduled to vote Sept. 29-30 in English classes. Eric Mirsepassi, activities director, sent PDFs of the current and revised constitutions to English teachers to aid explanation of the changes before voting proceeds.

“Remember, these changes were not made by adults,” said Watt.

Kimball described the process of revision, saying, “Students went through the old constitution and then met and talked about what they wanted changed. I typed up the proposed changes, we met again and reviewed it.” The Executive Council, which is a committee comprised of the student body cabinet and the presidents from each class, met about three times during the 2015-2016 school year, added Kimball.

Also involved in the process was former Student Body President Monica Arnone. “There were a couple sections that I was pretty passionate about, so I went through and did a lot of editing,” said Arnone. “It was really important to me that it was updated with what we do now. I just wanted the Constitution to say what we were actually carrying out.”

Student perspectives on the changes range from pleased to concerned, some calling attention to the qualifications for student body president candidacy.

“I find it necessary to have the student body president enrolled in the leadership class because the class is so involved with activities going on at the school,” said Student Body President Tori Tefft. “A lot of the time, the president is somehow involved with those activities.”

Contrarily, “I don’t think it should be required for those running for student body president to have been in leadership, since the purpose of student government is to be the voice of the students,” said Lizzie Edwards, senior. “I believe any student should have the right to run for office.”

Kimball recalled her junior leadership experience, saying, “Leadership does a whole lot of planning of events and such that run the school, so having the president in that class during their term of service to work directly with the activities director is very helpful for a lot of people.” For a student body president, she said, “Being in that class during their junior year is certainly helpful. I wouldn’t say that it is mandatory, but it aids to the start of school running smoother than it could be if the presidents didn’t know what they are doing.”

Students identified the benefits to the addition of this clause, saying that assembly planning experience in a student body president is necessary to aid a cohesive start to the year. Others indicated that the requirement was very restrictive, at least in the sense that the pool of viable candidates for student body president will be greatly diminished as a result of the regulation.

“I think that the rule is asking a little too much of the kids who want to be student body president,” said Sam Linder, junior. “What if you aren’t even accepted to leadership [during your junior year]? You’re out of consideration from the start.” Everyone, said Linder, “should get an opportunity if they wish.”

Reminiscing on her experience as student body president, Arnone commented, “I definitely wouldn’t have been able to do what I had done without the [junior/senior leadership] experience. How can you lead a group without having done that before?”

Since the revised document’s debut, students have also been questioning other elements of change, including the escalation in minimum GPA requirements.  

“Raising the minimum GPA to be eligible for an officer position perpetuates an elitist system, where only the people who are classified as being ‘intelligent’ or ‘responsible’ can govern the student body,” said Derek Chen, senior class secretary. “The idea that GPA represents one’s leadership potential is erroneous. GPA is affected by more than just responsibility. One’s privilege, resources, and environment profoundly affect that number. This minimum requirement is inherently oppressive and creates a hierarchical system with a limited vehicle for social mobility.”

Junior Class Publicity Representative Camila Mejia weighed the benefits and disadvantages of the requirement, saying, “First of all, I don’t think anyone should be excluded or kicked off if they don’t meet the grade expectations without a sit down explanation of what’s happening. They should be given a chance to raise [their GPA] if possible. However, I do understand this policy, because personally, I think grades [and] effort in class can accurately represent the kind of effort someone is willing to put into their school.”

Despite all controversies, many changes are long overdue and necessary, said Kimball. “So many things were out of date and either useless or restraining the modern approach the school is taking. The wording is now clearer to read. It was written by current Cleveland students and staff, meaning that the changes are relevant to how the school runs now,” said Kimball. “This is a change for the entire student body to take charge on who gets to run their school, how they are elected, and how staff and students work together to ensure that this system stays fair. This is something worth signing!”

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The student-run newspaper of Cleveland High School
Cleveland Constitution Ratification: The fine print