Civil Lessons

“What the hell is going on?” she asked as she looked at her phone.

I asked what she was talking about, and she told me.

“I guess the board meeting went poorly, so the kids at my school are planning to walk out tomorrow at 9am.”

DJ had just gotten out of her martial arts class when she looked at her phone and was inundated by texts, snapchat notifications, instagram notifications, and FB messages.  I was pretty damn impressed at how quickly they spread the word through 1800 kids.

“What are you going to do?” I asked.

“I’m not sure.”

She launched into her frustrations with her high school.  Can’t drink the water because of lead levels.  Can’t eat lunch in the cafeteria because the cafeteria only holds 150 kids and there are 1800.  Have classes in classrooms with leaky ceilings or ceilings partially torn apart because they found asbestos.  They have classes in a nearby Methodist Church because they are out of space and their portables are unusable right now.  And the last straw? A parent who saw a photo of the kids eating lunch in the hall and sent the Fire Inspector to investigate.  His findings? No more eating in the halls.  This means the kids have to go outside.  This is Oregon.  It rains most of the school year, and outside is not covered or heated.

That last thing was the straw that prompted the kids into action.  1 week into the new school year.

Some parents see this issue being about eating in the halls.  But it was truly the final straw – not the only issue.  Add that into the fact the school board decided to delay the bond measure that was marked for fixing their school, and the shit hit the fan…..not just with the parents but with the kids too.  The bond was slated to be on the ballet in November when a majority of registered voters actually vote, but they are pushing it to May at the earliest which is problematic given it is lower voter turnout making the double majority more difficult to get.  The kids went to the school board and pointed this out. They also quoted facts and figures around why bonds voted on in November during a presidential election pass while during other times they fail, but they got snide remarks and blown off.

“But the bond measure won’t fix the school while you are a student,” was a comment most reporters ask the students today.

“I know – but if we don’t push for it, even the kids after us won’t have a safe school environment because we’ll still be talking about the need for the bond.  I’m doing this because it’s time for something to happen and not just talk.”

Yes, they walked out.

Most of the 1800 students at the school walked out.

A handful of teachers including the principal went along with them.  Officially the word was they were going to keep the students under control.  Truth is the principal a month ago wrong an editorial about how critical it was that the bond be voted on in November.  Truth is the teachers that went with them are teachers who teach civics and government and US history.  They followed along – they encouraged the kids to go back to school – but they were cheering for them.  When one of DJ’s teachers saw her, he laughed and said “of course you are here.”

People looked at it as entitled kids marching because they want more.  One school which is also being impacted had kids who wanted to leave and march with them.  All school police were called to the school.  The school was placed into “lock-in” mode preventing the kids from leaving.  DJ sent me photos of kids at doors, wanting to leave, but being prevented.  Police were also called to the district headquarters because they were afraid the kids would come into the place and cause issues.

DJ came home after it was clear things were breaking up.  She had 3 more hours of school and maybe 1 class depending on when the rest of the kids got back.  (Her teacher was with the marching students.)  We talked about it.  She was proud of how many students left.  She was happy (as was I) with the spokesperson for the kids.  This was lead by students from the Constitution Team – a team with several national titles under their belts.  Fuck, they know more than most politicians about constitutional law.  The blurbs on the news were well spoken.

What will happen? Who knows.

As my dad put it, why aren’t more parents outraged?  Why aren’t more refusing to let their kids go to school where there is lead in the water, radon in the air, asbestos in the ceiling? Why are people who expect the teachers to provide certain protection for the kids in their care okay with this shit?

Good question.

It is proven through Supreme Court rulings that kids in schools have limited civil rights.  It is why locker searches without warrants are okay. It is why student speech can be limited.  I get that.

But it is still important that kids be able to organize and stand up for themselves – their needs – the needs of others.  When G went to this school,  they protested global and US issues.  These kids were protesting something in their backyard.  Something they could influence.

G sent me a text message.  “Tell DJ she is grounded…..until she eats a cookie at which time she will be ungrounded.”

As a history teacher, this is history. This is educational. This is important.  People learning that they can speak out – they have that right – and acting upon it.  It’s not bad – it’s good.

As as my dad asked -where the fuck were the parents?  I knew a few were in the background helping the kids.  But yeah – where ARE the parents.

Yeah, DJ missed three classes today, but she had an educational moment.  She stood up and did something. She didn’t just follow the crowd.  She articulated her concerns – and shared her experience to help people understand.  She learned she gets this right….even if she is a kid.  She stood up for people coming after her.

I like that.

Despite what people think, that’s one of the reasons the Revolutionary War was fought.  People need to have a voice.  Today, these kids used theirs.

What do you think?