A handful of early-arriving students showed up Friday at Half Moon Bay High School to find administrators busy helping custodians paint over graffiti splashed about campus. Unlike most gang-oriented graffiti, these markings were of a different ilk.
Some are calling the graffiti the irreverent act of delinquent teens. Others consider it political speech to protest high school policy. Dozens of markings spray-painted over stencils carry statements like, “Silvestri Sees All!” and “Streshly is Watching.”
The graffiti targets school administrators, including Assistant Principal Allison Silvestri and Principal Mary Streshly, over several school policies. On the list of student grievances are the stricter detention policy that’s been phased in slowly and also some dissatisfaction with class size and available classroom materials. The tipping point, however, was the video camera surveillance system recently installed to monitor the campus, according to students.
“It’s an infringement of our privacy,” said a high school senior who asked to remain unnamed for fear of getting in trouble. “But supposedly we don’t have rights because we’re minors.”
“The whole year we’ve been angry as a student body,” he said, and the installation of the cameras sent some students over the edge.
Although school administration has made no formal announcements, Streshly said she may cut student privileges, such as senior prom, senior picnic or other senior events. Such prospects haven’t been popular among students, particularly those seniors who think it’s unfair their class must bear the brunt of punishment.
The administration hasn’t pinpointed who is responsible.
Over the summer, Advanced Placement English students were assigned to read George Orwell’s “1984.” The totalitarian world Orwell described, in which everyone is under complete surveillance, resonated with some students when the school announced plans to install the cameras, students said.
Earlier this year, some of the AP students copied off large posters with Streshly’s face linking the school’s new surveillance policy with “Big Brother is watching you,” a phrase from Orwell’s fictional world suffering from intrusive government powers.
Streshly said the students expressed their concerns that the money for the cameras would be better spent in the classroom, but she added that the funding came from a block grant specifically meant for campus safety.
“It was hard to figure out if (the students’ protest) was malicious,” Streshly said, adding that the police were involved and some parents interpreted the poster episode as “a big joke.”
Streshly said the incident put a negative light on things on campus and made it seem as if mean-spirited posters and vandalism were appropriate ways to register dissent.
Streshly defends the school’s decision to install the cameras as a necessary step for campus safety. The cameras could help solve some crimes on campus, she said. By law adults are supposed to oversee students at all times on campus and, she explained, the administration would actually be held liable if it didn’t have adequate oversight.
“This shows me I haven’t done enough communication with the students,” Streshly said.
Streshly was clearly upset over having the school defaced with the stenciled graffiti. The school’s custodian Jorge Machado worked hard last week to clean up dozens of markings.
Rewarding students with prom and other senior events is difficult, Streshly said, when some of them acted inappropriately.