Mat-Su students stage second walkout in protest against representation issue

Mat-Su students stage second walkout in protest against representation issue
Published: Nov. 7, 2023 at 2:20 PM AKST
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MATANUSKA-SUSITNA BOROUGH, Alaska (KTUU) - Students at middle and high schools across the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District walked out of their first-period classes Tuesday morning to protest what they say is a lack of student input regarding recent decisions by the Mat-Su School Board.

It was the second protest in the span of a week organized by students. The date chosen — Tuesday, Nov. 7 — was intentional as it is election day in the borough and two school board seats are up for grabs.

“It’s meant to help voters see we want you to be informed going into this election. We don’t care who people vote for, we want them to vote for whomever they feel best represents them,” senior Ben Kolendo said.

Kolendo is the student representative on the Mat-Su school board. In September, the board voted to drastically diminish the student representative’s role to participate in meetings and lend student perspective on issues, despite testimony from students urging them not to.

At the time the amended policy was introduced, school board member Jacob Butcher said the student representative was intended as a privilege for the student body, “as opposed to a right as an elected official to serve on the board” and be privy to documents, be allowed to question witnesses and partake in the executive session matters of the school board.

Since then, students have claimed the board isn’t listening to them on issues that directly affect them.

Tuesday’s walkout was meant to be nonpartisan, according to Kolendo. Students said they weren’t supporting any particular candidate in the race for the two school board seats, although Kolendo said he personally would like to see change come to the board.

The protest lasted just 28 minutes, the amount of time meant to signify the number of years the district has had a student representative on the school board, according to Kolendo.

School officials asked students to take protests off of school grounds which were being used for polling locations for Tuesday’s local elections, according to a district spokesperson. That included Colony High School, Redington Junior/Senior High School, and Mat-Su Career and Tech High School in Wasilla, where Kolendo attends as a senior.

In an email, the district said students complied and schools reported peaceful and respectful student protests.