student democracy

Stuyvesant student elections in turmoil after winner disqualified

Jack Cahn (center), who was disqualified from Stuyvesant’s student body president election this week, talks with a former opponent, Keiran Carpen (left), and his running mate Remi Moon.

A series of seemingly minor campaign violations cost the winning candidate for student body president at elite Stuyvesant High School the election. But with a flair for drama that conjures up scenes from the movie “Election,” he isn’t giving up.

When votes were tallied earlier this week, Jack Cahn won in a relative landslide, 447 votes to 329. But Cahn, a junior, learned he was disqualified late Tuesday night when the school’s Board of Elections, a 19-member student body, released the results.

Now, Cahn and his supporters, led by a twin brother who is also editor of the student paper, are waging a campaign to have the decision over turned. They are petitioning online, posting updates to Facebook and appealing their case to administrators, despite already getting word that the ruling would be upheld.

The saga is decidedly low stakes. It’s Regents week and most students at the 3200-student school today were focused on their exams. Many seemed only vaguely aware of the controversy and two teachers said they hadn’t heard about it at all.

Some students also said that they didn’t consider the election to have much of an impact on their school lives, though everyone agreed that a chronic lack of toilet paper and paper towels in the restrooms, a major issue in the race, was a legitimate concern.

Like most positions in student government, the role of president at Stuyvesant is primarily one of advisory. But Cahn campaigned aggressively. He pledged to elevate student voice and demand changes to some school policies, even vowing to threaten to go to the press if promises weren’t kept.

“Right now, students at Stuy have very little power,” Cahn said. “We are feeling very disrespected.”

His campaigning also landed him in hot water with the Board of Elections, which enforces the school’s 8-page election regulations. Before the election, Cahn received ”strikes” for posting too many posters in one place and leaving personal belongings in the school’s student union office.

The third violation, which was reported on election day and triggered the disqualification, was for “slander” of Cahn’s opponent. A small faction of the board made the decision based on a private Facebook message that gently criticized his opponent’s record, which Cahn sent to other candidates seeking their endorsements.

Cahn said he believed he has been unfairly targeted by the Board of Elections because he posed a threat to the administration.

“There’s a general perception that the reason I’m being disqualified is that I’m the first candidate in probably four years that anyone has seen that actually stands a chance of strengthening student government,” Cahn said outside the school on Friday. He wore a suit because he was planning to meet with administrators again to discuss his appeal.

Cahn said that he had ambitious plans as president, which included setting up a way for students to evaluate teachers online. That proposal, he said, drew criticism from one teacher at the school who called him “anti-teacher” while campaigning.

In some ways, the controversy is the latest incident in a long history of activism at the prestigious school that has occasionally rankled the administration. Often, that activism has been channeled through the century old student newspaper, The Spectator. In 1998, a 16-year-old Micah Lasher was part of an editorial team that published articles criticizing the policy of filling teacher vacancies based on seniority. The administration eventually shut the paper down until Lasher launched a successfu campaign to get the paper restored. For Lasher, it was the first of what would become many disputes with education bureaucracy.

Cahn’s brother, David, started a petition on that has 250 signatures calling on the principal, Jie Zhang, to overturn the decision. And while David, editor of The Spectator, has recused himself from the paper’s coverage because of the conflict of interest, articles and op-eds published to its web site have been favorablto Jack.

The controversy has also been fodder for debate on Cahn’s Facebook page, where students involved in Stuyvesant elections, both past and present, have argued over how the election was handled. Some said the Board of Elections abused its authority by enforcing rules for petty violations.

“Even though these rules might be antiquated and might seem unfair, we can’t change the rules in the middle,” wrote a former board chairman who has since graduated. “It is as if the judge changed the rule in the middle of the soccer game.”

Zhang heard Cahn’s appeal and upheld the Board of Education’s decision on Wednesday.

“We recognize that the BOE, like all organizations, is imperfect, nevertheless it serves as a vital buffer between the school administration and the election process,” Zhang wrote.

In her email, Zhang, who did not respond to requests for comment, said she hoped that Cahn “will accept this decision with dignity, and will find other ways of serving the school.”

But Cahn said he would keep fighting and hoped that support from his opposition would help his case. Keiran Carpen, a sophomore who ran as vice president on the opposing ticket, said that he was prepared to concede the victory, a source of disagreement between him and the new president, Eddie Zilberbrand.

“As much as I want to win … I just don’t think it’s fair to win on these grounds,” Carpen said.



call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”