This message was sent to all principals in the district, to aid them in preparing for and advising their students regarding the Ferguson Grand Jury Verdict.
Recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, involving the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown and the upcoming verdict have prompted a broad range of emotions across the United States, and here in Seattle. As some are reminded of the shootings of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, and others harken back to the tragic death of Emmett Till in 1955, social protests in Ferguson, Missouri, have attracted national and international attention. While the facts of the case are still being sorted out by those in the criminal justice system, these events have the potential to impact classrooms across the district.
We know and understand our students are personalizing and experiencing a broad range of emotions around this event and as school leaders we want to help them both express their emotions and think ahead to their futures. It is important that you emphasize to your students that you recognize and value their emotions and want to provide a safe place to share and express how they feel. Also, communicate that you want to help support them in making decisions that will not affect their bright futures.
In an effort to help you support your students, we are providing the following information regarding school operations and potential "teachable moments" in our classrooms for potential student/teacher discussions.
Student Demonstrations and Protests
In order for students to remain safe during student protests and threats of protests, different levels of strategies need to be in place. It is important that staff avoid a combative position with students if at all possible. Demonstrating is every student’s right, however, creating a disturbance is not. Students may also walkout which is defined as “the act of walking out of a meeting, organization or school day” as a sign of protest. Staff members need to provide them with guidance on how to become effectively proactive to effect the change they desire. If students are protesting at public meetings, every effort shall be made by building administrators to provide staff to the meetings to assist in helping mediate the demonstrations so that positive outcomes and learning experiences can be achieved.
Tips For Teaching Controversial Issues
- Recognize the general legitimacy of controversy. Controversy is part of society and students must learn to discuss the issues and problems presented.
- Establish ordered ways of proceeding; discussions, debates, take a stand, continuum, mediation, etc. Create and agree on effective rules.
- Concentrate on evidence and valid information.
- Represent the opposing positions accurately and fairly (balance).
- Make sure to clarify the issue, so that everyone understands where there is a disagreement and where there is agreement (to avoid simultaneous monologues).
- Identify core issues.
- Avoid the use of slogans.
- Talk about concrete issues before raising the discussion to a level of abstraction.
- Allow the students to question your position.
- Admit doubts, difficulties, and weaknesses in your own position.
- Teach understanding by re-stating the perspective of others. Have participants paraphrase what they hear to gain this skill.
- Demonstrate respect for all opinions.
- Establish means of closure; examine consequences, consider alternatives.
Tips for School Administrators
The following are some suggestions that school administrators can implement as they identify the threat of student unrest or a walk out:
- Be sure at the news stories (communications will help with talking points)
- Help others understand the issue and how to support the students to find a positive outlet for their protest.
- Involve Safety and Security Department and local law enforcement (precincts) in your plan and strategy so they understand your intent.
- Provide talking points to teachers and staff regarding the legislation/public decisions.
- Identify vocal student leaders, and administrators should attempt to reason with these individuals and solicit their cooperation in bringing the matter under control.
- Identify key teachers who have a positive rapport with many students to assist in facilitating student forums.
- Consider providing a well-supervised forum (an opportunity to convene) for student leaders to express concerns, and brainstorm options that would appropriately benefit their goals of protest/walkout.
- Establish an atmosphere of respect for all in the forum.
- Convene some members of the community and agency members, including law enforcement that are student friendly and experienced, to support their efforts toward developing a plan and activities that would include appropriate methods of protest with the greatest efficacy.
- When intervention is needed to resolve the incident, Group Leaders should be identified. Administrators should attempt to reason with these individuals and solicit their cooperation in bringing the matter under control.
- When possible, provide highly visible Safety and Security Department and law enforcement presence on and around campus throughout the day.
- Provide communication to parents via letter, SchoolMessenger or newsletter, and utilize the media and the school marquee to inform members of surrounding community, parents and other stakeholders of efforts to address this issue.
We are unsure of the timing of the verdict, yet some media outlets are speculating it could be later today. If you are aware of potential student protests or demonstrations, I encourage you to call Safety and Security and your central office contacts for guidance and support while at the same time showing empathy for your students.
This may be difficult for students to deal with and what matters most is they know that you care, you’re helping them to be heard, and you want to keep them safe while safeguarding their futures.