A tale of two cities: Bentonville and LR react to planned student walkouts Wednesday | Arkansas Blog

A tale of two cities: Bentonville and LR react to planned student walkouts Wednesday

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Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly aging
Please get outta' the new one if you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'
Perhaps I'm too encouraged by the youth movement that developed after the Florida school massacre. Perhaps it's too soon to invoke Dylan's 1964 anthem, but why not?

Between the kids and the Moms Demand Action maybe the country has turned to a more sensible view of gun safety, even if Donald Trump and the majority of the Bentonville School Board have not.

I'm inspired by the national protests planned Wednesday, a 17-minute school walkout in memory of the children slain in Florida. School district responses vary widely. Some will countenance the protests. Some are attempting to encourage observances — moments of silence, fund-raising, matching shirts — without class walkouts. Some are putting the hammer down.

The Bentonville School District, intends to go by the rules. No tolerance of protests. In a 4-3 vote last night, the Bentonville Schoool Board said students who walk out WILL receive detention, even if there are 3,000 of them and even if the bookkeeping required to tally the 17 minutes of civil disobedience is a headache.
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The discussion was recorded on the school district's Twitter feed and it is instructive. There's a minute by minute account at this link.

Following public comment for and against a student walkout, Board member Rebecca Powers said a walkout would violate school policy. Supported by Brent Leas, they added a formal discussion of the matter to the agenda. And here came the authoritarians:



Ms. Powers says her concerns are not as a parent but as a board member who has serious concerns about the precedent set by allowing students to walk out during instructional time.
Asked by Willie Cowgur what other districts are doing, Superintendent Debbie Jones said most are allowing students to gather quietly for 17 minutes. No go for Powers.

Ms. Powers says she cannot condone this walkout, in spite of recognizing the nationwide sorrow caused by the loss of student life. She says such events can't take place during instructional time in Bentonville Schools.
Powers says she'd be OK with a 17-minute assembly "led" by the administration.

Came a voice of reason from Joe Quinn (former Little Rock TV anchor and now a Walmart executive).

Board Member Joe Quinn says he enjoys reading and finds a moment like this to be reminiscent of what he has read on the Civil Rights movement. He says like then, students now are thinking. He says he's proud of the students who want to stand up and speak their voices.

He says he's not concerned about chaos because he trusts our students. He also says the district attorney has said allowing students to express their voices Wednesday does not open Bentonville Schools to litigation.
Eric White wasn't happy teachers might be encouraging free thinking by students.

He says he had heard from constituents who say teachers are advocating for this movement and that can't occur. He says students must initiate this movement.
Jones said the handbook is clear. A student absence earns detention without a parent excuse. On this ground, Jones is in line with the ACLU. The ACLU has warned students that normal rules may be applied to a walkout, even for 1st Amendment expression, they simply cannot provide a punishment harsher than otherwise meted out. And, of course, districts can allow leeway as they do for pep rallies and all manner of other non-scheduled events.

The rules-are-rules approach appealed to Travis Riggs.

Board President Travis Riggs says he appreciates the students desire to have their voices heard but he says he is also a stickler for policy and is struggling with should students learn that sometimes there are consequences for their actions.
(Side note: This stickler for policy apparently isn't concerned about gadfly Jim Parsons' assertion that the district doesn't have enough certified boiler operators on duty to monitor the district's boilers. Parsons' lawsuit on the matter was thrown out Monday, not because he'd raised a false claim but for procedural reasons. There hasn't yet been a full examination of the district's compliance with rules Parsons has cited. This is also the same district that forgave a top employee for charging the district for equipment he used for a personal home project. This type of misuse of public resources has been known in other places as theft.  Stickler? Right.)

Not all board members are so fixed.

Board Member Matt Burgess says we preach to kids that we want them to be leaders but when they want to lead, we don't let them.
Some members seemed to indicate it was for them to decide what types of protests are proper, not students.

Mr. White says he encourages students to have their voice but this is a political issue. Board Member Brent Leas agrees saying this is not about the 17 lives lost in Parkland but this particular demonstration is politically motivated.
Well, yes. Which is what was envisioned back in the 18th century when the founding fathers put limits on  government restriction of speech. A 17-minute retreat on the 1st Amendment might be in order for some school board members.

Leas also said this was an issue for constituents and the board to decide, not the administration. Here we go again: First Amendment rights decided by popular vote.

Then came this exchange.

Board Member Leas says this should be about love in all of our hearts instead of a political statement.

Mr. Quinn says who is the board to say there isn't love in these students' hearts when they gather in unison to remember the lives of those lost in Parkland.
Then more 1st Amendment confusion

Powers says students don't abandon their Constitutional rights when they come to school but there can still be consequences for standing up for any cause
No, there should be NO consequences for supporting a cause, though there indeed might be consequences for skipping class — whether to go buy a Coke or express support for a national student movement.

Riggs said he didn't even favor a school assembly.

White then moved and Powers seconded that students who walk out be assigned an absence.

Superintendent Dr. Jones says she's concerned some 3,000 students may be assigned a detention. She says policy can still be followed because there are others options from a warning to expulsion.
\Cowgur said that the district must be consistent. If an unexcused absence carries detention, then the policy must be followed. And then it was ordered:

The board has voted [4-3] in favor of White's motion to uphold district policy, as its printed, for missing instructional time with Quinn, Burgess and Cowgur voting against.

Students who choose to participate in Wednesday's walkout at 10 a.m. will be counted absent and assigned a detention, in accordance with the student handbook.
The replies on the Twitter thread are voluminous. Lots of kids chiming in. Wednesday could be exciting in Arkansas and elsewhere — kids will be marching and many adults will be fuming about sons and daughters they don't understand.

It would be interesting to see the faces of Brent Leas and Rebecca Powers if 3,000 students walk out of Bentonville high schools for 17 minutes. Perhaps they can send down to Plaquemines for some of Leander Perez's bullwhips to drive the anarchists back into the classrooms where they belong.

Meanwhile, the Little Rock School District will talk at a news conference today about its plans for Wednesday. Superintendent Mike Poore, who once led Bentonville schools, has already sent a letter to parents. It said in part:

Our principals at each secondary school have worked with their student leadership teams to create as safe an environment as possible to conduct their protest, should they choose to participate. This collaboration is healthy and most importantly, it creates the best-case scenario for us to ensure safety for all of our students. Responsible use of social media could also provide a platform.

We are concerned that potential student protests in the streets would not be properly supervised. We ask that you discuss the impending national protest with your child. We would strongly suggest that students participate in activities that have been planned by our secondary schools and our student leaders.

Finally, this is an important opportunity to educate our students about the democratic process in action and the right to peacefully demonstrate differing views. Civic participation helps our students become well-rounded, informed, thoughtful and engaged citizens. Our students have great ideas and we need their voice, but we must all work together to create safe forums for ideas to be exchanged.
I guess if he was still in Bentonville, Leas, Powers and them would have been itching to fire Poore's butt.

UPDATE: I should note Fayetteville's decision to officially endorse a student walkout.

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