Chihuahua Passes Banned, Students Outraged

By Ari Case

Students are encouraged to read in the library by this sign made with chihuahua passes. Photo by Ari Case.

For years, students have been flashing their beloved chihuahua passes at Mrs. Vottero during advisory, gaining entry to a research center and sanctuary for all students.

On Friday, September 6, though, things changed.

A flood of freshmen clogged the hall waiting to gain entry to the library, something that they couldn’t do at the middle school.

“There were probably 150 kids in the hall trying to get in here,” librarian Mrs. Carrie Vottero said. “That’s not the point of advisory, and [it’s] not what I want for the library in advisory to be.”

Students wait in line for the library in advisory. Photo by Ari Case.

Mrs. Vottero said that “it happens every year at the beginning of the year.”

As new students discover the opportunities at the high school, like the Java & Script café counter in the library, traffic in those areas increases.

“It’s nuts because they know that it’s here, and then it kind of tapers off, loses its novelty and newness,” Vottero explained. “And I do think that’s eventually what would have happened with advisory. It’s just it was so many kids this time that it was just too much.”

She also said that this year there were far more students than usual.

“Those kids couldn’t have come into the library,” she said.

Even though it wasn’t a first occurrence, she was surprised by the mass of kids. She didn’t keep track of the number of passes she wrote and hadn’t expected that many students at once.

High School Principal Mr. David Zilli happened to be walking through the second-floor hallway at the time. There were so many students outside the library that he couldn’t get through the hall.

“There was a huge influx of students over the past several days prior to that case on that day who were attempting to go into the library,” Mr. Zilli said. “Due to the sign in process, the line took over 15 minutes. That’s a safety concern. So anytime there’s a safety concern, I need to stop and say, ‘Whoa, what’s happening and what can we do differently?’ That’s a safety and learning concern.”

Immediately, Zilli decided that something had to be changed.

“To think about the purpose and the vision of advisory, it is to increase students’ success,” he said. “Whether it’s using time flexibly to get help, to use some time to do homework [or] to collaborate [and] have club meetings. So, when we have 15 minutes—50% of advisory—where a large number of students are standing in the hall, we had to do something different.”

At the time, he decided that from that moment on the library was limited to silent research. Initially, he had even prohibited reading in the library because students could simply do it in their advisories.

“My point was just because you can’t get in the library doesn’t mean you can’t do those other things,” he explained.

Freshman Veta Scherff said she used the library almost every day during advisory. Most days she studied with a few friends for her most difficult classes, and occasionally had a few minutes to read.

“I have friends who say that they’re struggling in certain classes, and they want help studying,” Scherff said. “I want to offer help, but I can’t offer it after school [and] we can’t do it in classes. So advisory would be the best time to do it. And we don’t have the same advisory, so the library was our best option.”

Many students use the library as a place to study with peers for classes that require it. For a lot of students, their advisories aren’t productive places for studying alone or with other people.

Freshmen Nico Bortz and Ray Whitacre read and study respectively during advisory. Photo by Ari Case.

“Advisory can be really loud sometimes for some people,” Scherff said. “Or certain people aren’t in your advisory and you need them to be [there] to help.”

Even though it isn’t the intention, advisory commonly turns into a social time for a lot of students. What this can mean is that students who need to study can’t focus on their advisory.

Following the incident, Zilli and Vottero found a balance. It was important to Mrs. Vottero that students be allowed to work together and use the space however they needed as long as they were engaged.

“I think libraries are a sanctuary and a place to find a little calm and comfort,” she said. “And that sanctuary can be a place for you to work, a place for you to sit quietly, a place to meet with a friend, a place to have a little drink and relax [to] get ready for your next class, a place to prepare for a test or an assignment, find a book [or] look around. That’s what the library is for.”

It was crucial to Zilli that they found a way to maximize the benefits of the time.

“I knew that that was not maximizing learning time and that’s something that I feel very strongly about,” he said. “If we’re going to have that time, it has to be in order to benefit learning. I mean, that’s our goal for being here.”

Now, there is a limit on the number of students allowed in the library—40—and a new pass is required every day. Any activities a student wants to do in the library, be it reading for enjoyment or studying for an exam, is allowed. Importantly, talking is allowed as long as it is library appropriate.

“I’m here to increase learning,” Zilli said. “And part of that can be a social emotional piece. But I think we have to do that with a focus on our mission as a district. When we think about academics being one of our major problems, the social emotional pieces—you know, kindness [and] respect—[are] valued as well.”

The main goal for Zilli and Vottero is that students are engaged during the time.

“It’s not for kids to just hang out at the table and be loud and laugh and giggle and make all kinds of noise,” Vottero stated. “We don’t do that. It’s not a silent place, but it’s not a loud [and] crazy place, either.”

She explained that the 40-student maximum hasn’t even been reached yet, partially because the new rules aren’t completely clear. But it’s largely because those students who really want to be in the library were a minority among the previous masses.

The students who continue to return “were never the problem,” she said.

Some of those who loved using the space the right way are still upset about the changes to their safe space, but the students who caused the problem haven’t shown much aggravation.

“The kids that don’t care are the ones that we probably shouldn’t have down here to begin with,” Vottero said. “And they said nothing, absolutely nothing.”

Some dedicated library students did make a statement, though.

A group of students who used the library most days as a meeting place were upset with the changes.

The next day of school after the event, small signs of protest were put up around the school. A picture of the beloved chihuahua pass stamp was captioned “Bring Back the Library for Advisory!”

One of the signs at the lunch line still remains. Photo by Ari Case.

Many of them have been taken down, but some still remain.

“My initial reaction was a smile because I think it’s sweet that kids love the library and coming here that much,” Vottero said.

Both Zilli and Vottero said they respect the students who put them up and have no problem with the way it was handled.

“I certainly believe in civil disobedience,” Vottero said. “[And] I think it was done in a respectful way. I don’t think it was in any way inappropriate.”

The small acts of rebellion taken by those students were driven by the loss of something they cared about.

“It’s that sort of freedom of expression type of thing and I can understand that something was taken away that maybe students have had and maybe they even had that last year,” Zilli said. “It seems like it’s faded somewhat. And I would think that some of those people who maybe felt like they couldn’t go in there still can go in there.”

Since the initial change, though, a more reasonable restriction has been placed: as long as students are engaged, there can be up to 40 students in the library per day, but students must get a new pass every morning before advisory.

“Now I think it’s pretty much back to what we’ve always loved about the library,” Vottero said. “And that’s just a place where kids come who really love the library and it’s where they choose to spend that free time that they might have. Long live the library.”

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