School districts differ on protests

Whether the upcoming national protest — April 20, the anniversary of the Columbine shooting — against school shootings is a teachable moment depends largely on the school district.

On Wednesday, for example, we provided an update from Bemidji where the school superintendent shut down a call for walkout and protest.

Many districts are trying to address the situation in advance and sending home letters and emails to parents. If you get one from your district, we’d be interested in sharing it.

Here’s one today from Robbinsdale, where Superintendent Dr. Carlton Jenkins is looking for a middle ground on how students can make their feelings known.

Dear Families,

We hope this message finds you well.

There has been much in the news media and on social media about school walkouts to protest gun violence in the wake of the recent high school shootings at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.

In Robbinsdale Area Schools, we are made of great communities with great children. Our district, along with our School Board and Administration, is committed to having conversations about these kinds of events which impact our students. We will use the current energy of our young people as an opportunity to listen.

If students at our schools decide to join in the national protests against school violence, we would prefer students remain in our buildings. If they need a space for voicing frustration or having student-led dialogue, we have asked staff to provide them with a space to gather on campus. That said, we want to create a sense of normalcy for the students who may not want to participate in any walkout activities. As in the past, and in alignment with our Unified District Vision (UDV) goal of amplifying student voice, we encourage our students to be responsible in their decision making during this very critical moment of respecting the views of their peers and our learning communities. Please note: we will work collaboratively to maintain a safe and orderly environment for all children and staff. As a reminder, if you have specific questions about your individual buildings, please contact your school’s principal.

In alignment with our UDV’s goal of partnering with our families, we are asking you to engage with us in this process by speaking with your child about feeling free to share their thoughts in a responsible manner to bring about a greater good for all.

In closing, as superintendent, I want to thank you in advance for assisting us in this conversation with our students.

Carlton D. Jenkins, Ph.D.
Superintendent, Robbinsdale Area Schools

And then there’s the district in a city south of Houston, Texas where a school superintendent posted on Facebook that he wants no part of protest or awareness, the Dallas Morning News said.

Needville High School’s mission this year is “empowering students to become positive, well-rounded, and productive members of society.”

The school district has since deactivated its Facebook page.

  • Kassie

    I hope a ton of students at that Texas school walk out. I’d love to see a school try to give 75% of their students a 3 day suspension. They should protest not being able to protest.

    • BReynolds33

      I’d love to see it, too, because the ACLU would win each of them enough money to go to college for free.

    • Jack Ungerleider

      Well if they have 3 days of not being able to be on campus, they could do just that. One day in front of the district offices, one day at City Hall Maybe a march through town. All of it live streamed on the Social media outlet du jour.

  • “empowering students to become positive, well-rounded, and productive members of society.”

    As long as they rigidly conform to what Mr. Rhodes believes is positive and well-rounded, which I can only assume is a student who fits within his ideological boundaries.

  • BReynolds33

    Funny how the school district shut down its Facebook page after local ACLU chapters around the country reminded students on their FB pages that a school may punish you for having an unexcused absence, they are not allowed, Constitutionally, to punish you more harshly for political speech.

    My response, even to the Robbinsdale Superintendent is simple: Your permission is not sought, nor required. Thanks for your input, but no one asked for your opinion on the matter. If we want it, we’ll ask.

    And, as I told my 15 year old daughter last night: If you decide you fee strongly enough to participate in a walk out, I’ve got your back.

    • Part of their mission statement refers to raising “patriots” . It didn’t provide a definition of what a “patriot” is, so we’ll just have to use the Texas default definition.

    • BReynolds33

      More on the Superintendent in Texas. Apparently, he once tried to force a Native American student to cut his hair. This guy is a real winner.

      • Mike Worcester

        //“A school district is a reflection of the community,” he said. “We’ve consistently been very conservatively dressed, very conservatively disciplined. It’s no secret what our policy is: You’ll cut your hair to the right point. You’ll tuck in your shirt. You’ll have a belt.”

        I’d really hate/enjoy seeing how this “educator” would react to a student who wears a hijab.

    • jon

      “I’ve got your back”
      Most powerful idea parents can impart to their children for what is right and wrong, is supporting them when they do what is right… even if bureaucrats call it disruptive.

    • John

      The Robbinsdale Superintendent’s permission is certainly not required, but I bet it’s nice for the students there to know that he has their back – all students, including those who do not wish to protest/demonstrate.

    • >>My response, even to the Robbinsdale Superintendent is simple: Your permission is not sought, nor required.<<

      Robbinsdale students have had a history of walking out and demonstrating for much less than speaking out against gun violence.

      And you are 100% correct with this: "Thanks for your input, but no one asked for your opinion on the matter."

  • Jeff
    • Jerry

      What a colossal putz. Although obviously not in a proportionate sense.

      • Dave S.

        And this is why NewsCut has the best comments section on the internet.

  • KTFoley

    I’m thinking about the definition of “empower” and have come to the conclusion that if the Houston students do walk out, then the district has done its job.

    Superintendent Rhodes painting himself into a corner is just a bonus.

    The best counterpoint I could offer is that when people organized for the end of slavery in the US, British colonial rule in India, or Jim Crow laws in the American South, they recognized the principles of civil disobedience which included accepting the consequences of disobeying the unjust law. They also recognized the principle that the only prospect for civil reform is through individual effort.

    The idealists who organized to get the US out of Viet Nam, register voters in Mississippi, end clear-cutting in old growth rainforests, halt the arms race, clean up Love Canal, keep nuclear waste out of Yucca Mountain, and myriad other causes at odds with the state’s status quo are TIRED. Even more than they’d like to claim success, they’d like to know someone will take up where they left off.

    Standing Rock, a sea of pink knitted hats, Alt-National Park Service, women running for office, #metoo, journalists doing their work even when the subject is their own employer, high school students pushing for gun laws: these give me hope in an otherwise dark, dark world.

  • John

    If those two Superintendent letters are not illustrative of the rift in opinions around how this country should be run, I don’t know what is.

  • BJ

    After Robbinsdale had a very bad superintendent for a long time this is the second one in a row that has been very good. The first set a good course correction, this one is really driving the district forward.

    You will notice he references the Unified District Vision (UDV). He sends a weekly email out and each week he points out where he and staff have worked on the UDV. Usually those things are documents created and never looked at or referenced. He does so every week. If I had to guess he probably reads it daily and asks how he can do something to reach a goal on it, everyday.

  • Susan WB

    For what it’s worth, here’s the official word I received as a parent in Minneapolis Public Schools:
    “Last week’s school shooting in Florida made an impact on people throughout our country. While we have policies in place to keep our students as safe as possible, many people are wondering what else can be done. Across the nation, students have been especially active in speaking out on this issue, and they have organized a number of activities in response to the shooting.
    What’s become clear is these tragedies occur too often, and something has to change. There are no easy answers, but it’s time for our country to have a real conversation about how to move forward to protect our students and teachers. It’s been profound to see that conversation being led by students.
    We encourage our families to have conversations with their students about their expectations and participation in non-school sponsored activities, including walkouts. MPS respects students’ First Amendment right to peacefully assemble, and we will not discipline students for the act of protesting as long as the protest remains peaceful. However, the best way for us to ensure student safety during the school day is to know where our students are—that’s simply not possible once they leave school grounds. At this time, our normal policies regarding student attendance and walkouts still apply.
    The Superintendent’s senior leadership team will be meeting this week to discuss further considerations for national walkouts planned in March and April. We will share more information as these conversations continue.”