School for Scandal: A Brief History of Hard-Nosed Politics in Campus Elections

A recent campaign controversy at a top New York City public school is only the latest in a long tradition of big conflicts in small-time races

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Craig Warga / NY Daily News / Getty Images

Stuyvesant High School

New York City’s Stuyvesant High School, a top public school, jumped into the headlines Monday for a fight over its school president. Jack Cahn, 17, was elected by his peers to lead the student body only to be stripped of his office for a series of campaign violations, including speaking ill of his rival. A petition to overturn the decision has garnered 350 signatures, the New York Times reported, more votes than Cahn’s opponent won in the campaign.

Stuyvesant is not the first high school to play host to political intrigue. Here’s a brief guide to controversial elections from tony Phillips Academy to football-mad Wichita, Kansas.

1. Political meddling
Beware of the “advisor.” Jacob Bigham, a senior at Orange County’s Troy High School in Fullerton, California, broke into a school database last year and revealed that the elected student body’s advisor had rigged the contest against him and in favor of her preferred candidates. Bigham was initially suspended for five days for his hacking infraction and banned from his post as vice president.  Only after further investigations and a word from the local state representative was Bigham allowed to assume his position. The advisor, a special-education teacher at the school, resigned from her position with the student government.

 2. Boy’s club
Among the most prestigious prep schools in the country, Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, faced a crisis this year when a group of concerned students publicly decried the election process for its male domination. Their evidence: only 4 female students have served as student body president in the last 40 years. “This gender inequity is a critical issue we face as a student body,” the students wrote in a letter to the school newspaper. This year, the Student Council established two co-presidents in an attempt to reform the process. Two male students formed the winning ticket.

3.  Sticky ballots
High school election scandals are nothing new. Fraud during the 1958 student elections in Seabreeze High School of Daytona Beach, Florida made it to the front page of the Daytona Beach Morning Journal. Amid accusations that someone had tampered with the school’s voting machines, principal Samuel Miller voided the election results. The Morning Journal reported that names of eligible candidates were suspiciously covered with masking tape.

4. Smack talk
Where football is king, even the high school president must watch what he says. Last month, Heights High School in Wichita, Kansas, suspended class president Wesley Teague for insulting the football team on Twitter. Teague, a member of the school’s track team, had tweeted: “Heights U is equivalent to WSU’s football team,” a reference to Wichita State University’s football program that was shut down in 1986. The scandalous message led the administration to bar Teague from giving his planned speech at the school’s graduation breakfast.

5. Segregated offices
Nettleton Middle School in Nettleton, Mississippi had an unusual system to elect its student government leaders until 2010: by the color of their skin. Ostensibly to encourage diversity, the school rules mandated that the president be white and the vice president be black. The school scrapped the policy after garnering unflattering media attention. The policy had been in place for more than 30 years.