A conversation with CDE President Matthias Simon

Dear readers, 

The following article was banned from being published by the school management of the European School of Brussels III in the local student magazine, the BEE3.  

We hope that’s controversial enough for you.  

Matthias SimonZofia Leib, Kimon Koussoulakos-Vasilounis 

A conversation with CDE President Matthias Simon 

Kimon Koussoulakos-Vasilounis & Zofia Leib 

On the 10/06/2020, BEE3’s Zofia Leib and [email protected]’s Kimon Koussoulakos-Vasilounis interviewed President of the student council (comité d’élèves, aka. CDE) Matthias Simon on his presidency and the school. 

Zofia: What motivated you to run for president in the first place? 

Matthias: It was a combination of three things: – there’s the obvious part for anyone: their CV. But there certainly is that part in you that says: I want to change things which have annoyed me over the past years, and I haven’t seen anyone do that, so I’m going to do it. Plus, I believe that I was not that unwell suited for the job.  

Zofia: Would you think that generally the CDE has improved its presence at EEB3? 

Matthias: Yes. Ideally, we would want a model close to the APEEE, in regard to power, importance and obligations. It’s a change that’s going to take a lot of terms. But it’s a necessary change because I believe it’s not comprehensible that a CDE is powerless at the start. 

Zofia: Springfest – do you think that the CDE should be more involved in the preparations 

Matthias: Yes. The Springfest committee is chosen by teachers. It is not elected, while the CDE has a mandate from the students, so there is a difference. I would say that the CDE should be represented in the management team, and within that team, the students and teachers should have equal voice. I think there needs to be more oversight by the students in student projects in general. Just to give you an example: there is something called the “conseil disciplinaire”. So, if a student messed up, then the student is going to go in front of it.  

Kimon: It consists of the director, deputy director, educational advisor if it’s a secondary student, and one teacher per section. And the student only has his legal guardiansIf they want, they can ask for a representative of the parent’s association and of the students committee, who cannot be involved in the processbut can be there as an observer. [1]  

M: That has actually never happened, at least not that I am aware of it. For me, it is a symbol of the lack of students’ oversight – we have no idea what is discussed in there. Students and parents should be represented all the way, they shouldn’t have to be asked to come on. And both should have a say in the decision making. The student can be ejected from school. It is not a decision that the school administration, in my opinion, has the right to take alone. It is one to be done by all stakeholders. It is the job of the student representation to represent the students.  

K: Did students have a say in the S7 proclamation?  

M: Yes and no. For me, the proclamation is a celebration of the students – it is not about the school. And therefore, it should be organized by the students. To give you an idea: the CDE has proposed and recommended to split the year in two, without parents attending. Our reasoning was that this student celebration should first and foremost put students together. The administration decided to disregard us. It has decided to have two to three classes with parents at a time, effectively fragmenting the class of 2020. And as a cherry on top, the administration has deemed a speech, I quote, “too negative” and banned it from the proclamation. That is plain and obvious censorship. That is a resource of authoritarians, not of directors of a European school. 

K:  If we recall correctly, you mentioned the cross run when you presented yourself for the presidency. Do you remember the context? Where you aware that the school was planning on making it mandatory? 

M: The whole thing for me was an afront. Because the CDE of the year prior should have been made aware of this, as the matter concerns the students. And if the students do not have any say in that, they should be at least warned about it. So, the previous president was unaware, and at the beginning of the year, for everyone in the school community this has fallen out of the blue. And, I am not in favor of making it obligatory. Not every student wants to take part in it. The cross used to be purely for the fun of the school, like football at Springfest. Anyone could watch or take part in it, and the best one won. And now it’s in the VUB, it is mandatory. And it might be fun, it was for many students, it was a success in that regard. But it certainly takes away that other fun part of it.  

K: Is that something you tried to change? 

M: Yes, and I failed. That’s the way our school currently works. If student representation says that this is absolutely against the students will, the direction, the teachers, reserve themselves the right every single time to say: we’re still going to do it.  

Z: Do you know anything about the instance where some students privately organized their own hoodieand they were banned from distributing it? 

M: You are referring to a private S7 project. To put this into perspective: It was a hoodie which catered to the frustration that the school was censoring the official hoodie. A hoodie that says “Bacardi” is not something out of this world bad. Alcohol has happened before in the slogans. There was “Bac de bière.” 

K: And the point of it being a brand is abolished when you have “To Delhaize and back” … 

M: Yes. This gave room for a private hoodie. And then the school said: you will not be able to sell it on school grounds. Which in my opinion is no place of the school to decide, unless it violates anti-discriminatory rules, glorifies violence or insults people. But the best part was that it was not to be sold outside of school either. At least there was a push for that. The school has no place deciding anything from the moment the student takes a step out of the school parameter. This should not happen. Also, the official hoodie was advertised in the WhatsApp groups that the CDE created. The school argued that it was a medium of the school, taking ownership of that medium. This blows my mind. It’s a WhatsApp group, it’s on the student’s phones. It is of no concern of the school, unless it’s mobbing. It is also not their concern what a student writes in their emails or on MS Teams, as long as it’s not to a teacher or staff in the school. The school should stop getting into the students’ private life. And: the school also does not have the right to close conversations on MS Teams from students. I am going off topic, but the short version of it is: EEB3 is the United States of schools. It involves itself in matters it has no business in. 

Z: Do you have anything to say about the way the school communicates decisions to students? 

M: There is a habit of the school to dump communications on every member of the school community. Which is annoying if you’re the CDE because you’re going to have all hell break loose because students are asking you a ton of questions that you don’t have an answer to yet – you haven’t read the document sometimes yet, so you’re going to have to quickly wrap your head around it. It should be communicated to the teachers’, to the parents’ and to the students’ representatives, who will then relay it to their constituents. Because let’s be real: students don’t understand what is in these documents. It’s bureaucratic speech. And it is perfectly set up to create rumors, confusion, and completely absurd take-outs. And teachers also sometimes don’t understand them either. Every time a communication comes out, we send an explanatory note with it. And throughout this whole pandemic, most of the time, students were better informed than teachers. It is as easy as saying when a communication is going to come out, give it an hour early to the representatives, and then sending it out simultaneously with the TL:DR. I can understand that the school, or the bureau central, might be reluctant to send their communications out to all stakeholder representatives, why? We have had instances of CDE’s and APEEE’s leaking [information]. This happens because a few CDE’s and APEEE’s send things out premeditatedly. It happens with this system, and it’s going to happen in a new system. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t even do it. And it will work because the CDE has the incentive to keep the trust of the direction. If the direction says something is confidential, then the CDE is not going to publish it.  

K: Student projects like TEDx and the BEE3 aren’t funded by the CDESo, if something doesn’t go according to plan or isn’t cleared beforehand, there’s always the possibility of the funding being cut.  

M: For me the ideal circumstances, and something I would highly suggest the next CDE to have, is a membership fee paid by parents. And all of these student projects could be funded by the CDE. It gives independence. For accountability, the financials should be reviewed by the APEEE. Let’s say you do a bundle: membership of the APEEE and the CDE. I would say the school does not have any say of the APEEE budget. And I would certainly prefer to be dependent of the APEEE than of a non-elected body, very often going against student opinion, compared to the parents, who are often close on the CDE’s side.  

Z: Besides the 28 new bicycle stands, is there anything else good that happened or something general you would like to point out?  

M: Generally, it is going in the right direction. The canteen has more vegetarian options and we are becoming greener. The cafeteria remodel we wanted to do with the parents might still happen this summer, unless it changes due to Covid-19. I am happy to say that there has been the assurance of the Secretary General that student representatives are allowed representation from the coming school year in the “restricted” administrative board, where financials are discussed. Previously we were only allowed on the enlarged one. This has been a huge win of CoSup. Also, there is more support from the students, who have more access to the CDE. And you also have the administration that is at least going a little bit towards the students. It is a painful and long process, but I am optimistic that at some point, this school will have this emancipated CDE that can go into every meeting as confident as a parent representative.  

K: It was very fun! Thank you very much. 

M: Thank you, guys! Also, final hot take: next year’s CDE should abolish all hoodies and sweatpants.  

Z: Interesting thoughts. Thank you for your time!  

[1] General Rules of the European Schools – Article 44 

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