Teachers directed not to participate in student walkout


Teachers received directions from administration last Thursday not to purchase T-shirts for the student walkout or to endorse the activity.  

Students are selling T-shirts during lunch periods in the Commons to promote the student-led walkout that is occurring tomorrow from 9:53 to 10:30. The walkout is being held to honor the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High shooting that occurred one month prior and to promote student voice.

School administrators directed teachers through an email not to buy or wear the shirts and that the role of staff in the walkout is supposed to be support, but not endorsement.

“The bottom line is that that’s a normal day of teaching and learning. Between 10 and 10:30 we know that there will be a student movement and so we’re asking some teachers to be in a supervisory position and some to continue teaching because some students will opt to participate and some will opt to stay in the classroom and learn,” principal Dr. Darrell Echols said. “The problem is we’re not supposed to be using the MV public email for the promotion of anything that’s not promoted to the district. This is a student-led movement. Students will be selling T-Shirts, that’s not a problem. We just can’t promote that via email.”

Some staff members are supporters of the student walkout and planned to participate in it. “Our jobs are inherently political, so I think it’s difficult to separate the walkout from any other shirt we wear supporting a student endeavor. When I wear a Hunger Drive T-Shirt, that’s supporting a student endeavor,” language arts teacher Jessica Thomas said.

A few have already bought shirts that support the walkout and the movement, both from students and outside sources. “I bought a T-Shirt in support of my students, not for any political affiliation,” Language Arts Department Chair Diane Tancredi said.

The IPEA 2015-2018 contract that teachers are currently under does not include any guidelines on clothing beyond general professional and business casual, however a portion of the contract prohibits “political activities at work or while on duty for the district”, indicating that teachers should not participate in the walkout and they should not wear or do anything to further a political movement or agenda.

However, staff has often worn clothing that is supportive of movements that can be considered political. For example, supporting hunger drives is a political movement. Staff members wearing IPEA shirts when their contract is under negotiation is also political, as IPEA is a teachers’ union.

“I think that they didn’t want to put teachers in an uncomfortable position that these are the teachers that are buying shirts to support the students and these are the teachers that don’t, so I don’t think they wanted it to be divisive,” social studies teachers Susan Fuhrer said.

The distinction appears to be an issue not of politics but of partisanship because the issues surrounding the walkout like gun control and school safety have strong partisan ties.

District and building leaders are advising teachers not to participate in the walkout. Staff members who are present will be supervising, and staff members that have a free period during fourth hour have been asked to attend and help supervise. In a message to the community, Superintendent Dr. Karen Sullivan said that teachers will remain in their classrooms with students who do not participate in the walkout.

Because of these directions, many teachers believe that if all of their students choose to participate, then they too are being asked to go outside to help supervise.

“The main purpose of the walkout is to promote change and student voice and unity in the community. It’s going to mean change in a lot of different ways. It’s political change but it’s also the administration listening to the students, the political leaders listening to the students,” senior and member of the student delegation organizing the walkout Alexa Jordan said. “All large movements start with students, and I think this entire political movement is going to start with us.”