EHS Update

Karina Patterson, Editor

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The past few months at EHS have been both very heated and very emotionally charged for many. On March 30, 2017 there was a walk-out organized and followed through by the student body, over 200 students participated. This walk-out’s slogan is “No Hate Here” because this walkout was held to showcase that the student body will not tolerate hateful and racist acts in the community. After this walkout, tensions have elevated and multiple incidents have occurred further stirring emotions. The Eagle was interested in what our staff and administration felt about the initial walkout so several meetings were arranged to discuss the event. The Eagle interviewed the EHS principal, Kevin Burke along with two teachers. The following questions were asked:

 

For Teachers

  1. As a member of the faculty, have you witnessed or been a victim of racism in our school?
  2. How do you feel about the walk out?
  3. Would you have walked, why or why not?
  4. Do you support students expressing their right to a peaceful protest?
  5. As a teacher, how do you feel when you hear that over 100 students walked out of school because they no longer felt safe and felt they had the obligation to protest against racism in 2017?

 

For Administration

  1. Do you feel the meeting held after the walkout went successfully?
  2. Many students have stated that they felt the assembly following the walkout made the situation worse and caused tensions to grow. Some felt as though their questions were weaved around and not answered properly. It seemed like you were in between a rock and a hard place when it came to protecting privacy and following school policies etc. while wanting to answer students at the same time. Can you provide a statement to the students who are still concerned with the altercation in the parking lot and quote on quote “racist issues in the school being swept under the carpet to keep a good reputation in tact”. I cannot reveal where this quote originated.
  3. How do you feel about students utilizing their freedom to a peaceful protest?
  4. When you first heard about the walkout, what was your immediate reaction?
  5. As both an administrator and former teacher, how do you feel when you hear that over 100 students walked out of school because they no longer felt safe and felt they had the obligation to protest against racism in 2017?

 

The Eagle sat down with Mr. Burke one morning to ask him these questions. Before the interview began, we informed him that he could chose to not answer a question or multiple questions but he was happy to answer all the questions presented:

 

  1. “I think student voices were heard, I think we need to continue to open lines of communication and we are definitely working on ways that we can do that. We have a lot of ideas that have been given to use by community members, by students, by staff, and we’re trying to figure out the best way to proceed so I think it [the schoolwide assembly held after the walkout] was a start.
  2. “The fight was a fight and was dealt with as a fight.” Unfortunately we were cut off by announcements and the train of thought was lost but The Eagle followed up with, “It seemed like, as administrators, you were very constricted with answers [at the meeting].” Mr Burke replied, “We can’t say what consequences we’ve handed out to students. It’s against the law. What we can say is that any issue that is brought to us, including any racial statements, any hate speech, we’ve spent time, we’ve addressed it and we’ve handed out consequences. I don’t think we’ve swept anything under the rug, I don’t think we’ve ignored anything. So just as we addressed the issue of the fight, we’ve also addressed the issue of the hate speech and the racism and we will continue to obviously move in that direction.
  3. “I think you were one of my students at one point in time and I think you’ve probably heard me in my class that it’s always a good idea for students to speak out and use their voice. I think that that is part of what this country is about and I think it is great to see that our students did it in a peaceful way.
  4. “My immediate reaction was that I wanted to talk with the students that I knew were kind of the leaders in this, and I did. I wanted to talk to our student leaders and I just wanted to make sure that before our students walked out, they were informed and doing these things for the right reasons. Obviously safety was also a concern which is why the police were involved because at any point in time safety is paramount to make sure for our students are safe. Especially when they are about to go walk outside and protest. So, I think as I said in the first part, we met with the leaders, we met with school leaders and we sat down and we tried to answer any questions before the walkout and we tried to make sure that they had an understanding of what this could mean. We also wanted to make sure that they had a positive message.”
  5. “I think it’s a reflection of the times we currently live in. I think we live in a climate right now that things are swirling and obviously that swirl has swirled into our community. Once again, I think it’s great that we live in a community that the kids care and the kids want to say something and the kids want to make sure that they make a statement that this is not alright in our community and I think that’s impactful. In anything, I try to look at the positive and see how we can move forward as a community and make sure that we’re all on the same page and that people understand what’s expected of this community. Which I think, we all want everyone to be accepted for who they are.”

 

The Eagle also reached out to teachers and got two responses. These teachers were also notified that they did not have to answer a questions or multiple questions if they did not want to. Again, they were happy to answer all given questions:

Paul E. Peelle:

Over the past dozen years at EHS, I have certainly witnessed racism (as well as other –isms).  While difficult to quantify, I do sense that there are more in-your-face kinds of statements than there used to be.  I do want to note that such discriminatory remarks are not one-directional, meaning that I have witnessed both non-minority and minority students stereotyping.  Of course, I find any such comments inappropriate and have encouraged all to think more openly and acceptingly.  To paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr., I have a dream that judgements are made based on content of character and actions, not on the color of skin (or other identifiers).

Furthermore, I abhor violence.  It cuts off communication and encourages more violence and pain.  To paraphrase John Lennon, imagine nothing to kill or die for, imagine all the people living life in peace.

Just dreaming and imagining, however, isn’t enough.  We all have commonalities and differences.  We all must constantly work peacefully to understand and appreciate both.  Education is the key for feeling safe and secure.

I was pleased that the protest was indeed peaceful.  Expressing opinions through protest is certainly a special opportunity in America.  With every privilege comes responsibility; taking any action, we all must recognize the consequences.  For example, some observers may misinterpret the protester’s message; the protestor needs to recognize the trade-offs of such action, such as missing class time.  If every single one of my students were going on the march, I would have joined in support as well as providing extra supervision safety.  Again, however, anyone expressing their concerns about safety should be continuing to find solutions through negotiation.

 

Anonymous 2:

  1. In almost 2 decades of teaching at EHS, I’ve only witnessed one verbal fight in which racial slurs were used. I tend to trust that the EHS community is safe and tolerant.
  2. While I’m shocked and disappointed in the circumstances leading up to it, I’m prideful about the walkout. It makes me proud that a large number of our student body has the ability to take matters into their own hands in a safe, intelligent manner for a compassionate, humane purpose.
  3. Absolutely. I’ve been a participant in marches since I was in college. To be part of a movement is a life changing experience. I believe the more powerful you are, the more your actions will have an impact on people, the more responsible you are to act humbly.
  4. As long as students fully understand the intent of the protest and stand behind it with conviction, I support it.
  5. To piggyback on question 2, it satisfies me to know that when a student doesn’t feel the support from adults that they have the self advocacy skills to implement their own problem solving. Self-advocacy and problem solving skills are necessary and practical for life.

            
Following the walkout, the school committee meetings have been pretty packed with concerned parents, students and community members. At the first meeting after the walkout, on April 5, 2017, a group of concerned parents presented a letter to the community asking them to replace the current resource officer at the time due to a conflict of interest and to also ask for the removal of the our principal, Kevin Burke. It was said that this group had, “…lost faith in his ability to lead EHS and maintain a safe environment for our children.” Since that meeting, the school committee meetings have been very emotional with many community members speaking up about their opinion on events at our highschool. One meeting in particular got relatively heated when the issue of banning the confederate was brought up. Several argued that it was a symbol of Southern Pride and claimed that if this flag was banned, it would be taking away freedom of speech. On the opposite side of the spectrum, many retaliated with saying that this flag represents a time where slavery was permissible and is ultimately racist to the highest degree. One of our own students regarded a time when she did a project of the KKK and stated that the confederate flag was used by the KKK (an infamous white supremacist group) and for that reason alone should not be widespread. She continued to say that she would never want a flag that she holds dear, the pride flag, taken away from her. However,  at the same time, the pride flag is a symbol of love and peace and does not have the negative connotations the confederate flag holds. After three hours of passionate conversation,  the school committee ultimately decided to ban the confederate flag from EHS at this time on the basis that it is inappropriate for a school environment unless in an educational lesson.

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