Many people outside of our community have provided us with feedback about our approach to assigning consequences for participating in the walkout held on Wednesday, March 14.
We had 1,100 students across our district who participated in a walkout on Wednesday. We notified all students and families last week of the consequences for walking out of class. We explained that students would not be disciplined for engaging in civil protests that did not interfere with the learning environment. However, leaving class unexcused would be a violation of school rules, and would result in disciplinary action.
As we heard that walkouts were being planned by students, we met with student leaders and offered several alternative options that would not disturb the educational environment. (This included sharing that another student-led march is taking place on Saturday, March 24. It will begin at 11 a.m. in the parking lot at North High.) After students confirmed they were most interested in options outside of March 14, during the school day, and the students intended to have a political rally around a variety of issues, we began discussions with them about how to safely manage a political protest.
The student organizers that put this together are a very committed group who spent a lot of time preparing for this political event. Our staff worked closely with them to ensure that everyone was safe, their voices heard, and nobody's rights were diminished. Their plan allowed students to make a choice about their support of the walkout - from walking out, to staying in but wearing orange and/or purchasing a bracelet, to staying in class with no outward signs of support. The students clearly communicated the plan and asked their peers to be quiet and respectful as they exited the building.
Students have shared they consider the detention a "badge of honor" and a symbol they truly are protesting and standing up for their rights at a personal cost. If you read their accounts in the school newspaper at South High and North High, you will see our students take great pride in standing up for what they believe in. Many feel that a detention for leaving class is a small price to pay to exercise their rights and draw attention to their cause. When several of our student leaders heard that some schools were not assigning consequences, they shared with administration they didn't feel this was a good idea. Students believed that in order to be taken seriously, they should show they are committed enough to receive a consequence.
If a school system picks a side on issues like this we immediately invalidate and minimize some of our student's perspectives. We need to be supportive of all students. This week we supported the 1100 students who chose to walkout and the other 3900 who decided to stay in class. Some of those students stayed behind because they didn’t want to participate, or did not feel strongly enough about the topic to accept consequences for their actions. Still others hadn’t yet formed an opinion, or were simply not in favor of some of the politics around this issue. We are responsible for showing we care about all of our students, regardless of their political views. Students that wanted to protest for this issue were supported by staff, administration, local parents cheering them on, and Downers Grove police helping to keep the environment safe.
Our job is to keep students safe, and to create a forum where our students can learn how to think--not what to think. We believe we serve them much better by not paving the way for them.