The events in Ferguson, Mo., were on the minds of students at several Baltimore area schools this week.
On Tuesday evening, a flier circulated via Twitter about a mass sit-in planned for Polytechnic Institute and adjacent Western High School students. The flier said that at 9 a.m., students should “walk out of class and go directly to the auditorium.”
Officials at both schools heard about the sit-in and instead held a forum for the students. Poly Principal Jacqueline Williams said the schools held a one-hour forum for juniors and seniors in the morning, followed by a forum for freshmen and sophomores.
“We provided a safe place for expression and it allowed us as an administration to foster a learning environment with a two-way conversation, with us listening and providing feedback,” she said.
Williams said that after the session students watched a video about the Ferguson incident then returned to class.
“I was very concerned, because you’re dealing with a lot of feelings,” said Williams, “and people are passionate about what happened.”
Western freshman Yasmine Arnett, 14, of Baltimore said the forum allowed all students to talk if they wished. “It was a real safe environment for us to get how we felt about the Ferguson verdict out to our peers," she said.
Yasmine said that she offered her take on the decision, saying, ‘’It’s not even about the fact that it was a white cop shooting a black kid. It’s the fact that he was unarmed. It was the fact that there were six bullets in his [body], the fact that he was lying in the street for four hours. I don’t see color. I see a man shooting a kid six times.
“Another thing we said,” Yasmine added, “is that because we’re not old enough to vote yet, we need to get our parents to take action on stuff that matters when they’re trying to pass laws, not just for the president and the mayor, but for laws that affect us as well.”
Yasmine said that while some students readily took part in the forum, others weren’t pleased that the administration dashed their plans for the sit-in.
“The principals of both Poly and Western heard about [the sit-in], and it was suppressed into something they wanted their way,” said Yasmine. “Some students were mad about that part because we couldn’t do it our way. It had to be done the schools’ way. And that’s not going to make a change. ... We believe that by Monday they won’t even care anymore.”
But Williams said that school officials will gauge students’ sentiments come Monday and might have another forum if they deem it necessary.
“I’ll continue to talk to my senior class leaders,” said Williams. “[Wednesday’s forum] was about getting their points across and allowing their voices to be heard.”
At Catonsville High School in Baltimore County, a student doing the morning announcements Tuesday decided to drop the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in favor of a minute of silence for those whose lives were lost because of police brutality. The student also announced the different protests that were occurring around Baltimore that day, in case students wanted to attend.
The move hadn’t been approved by the administration and so the student won’t be doing the morning announcements again, according to Principal William Heiser.
“It was one of those situations where we are really proud that a student would take an interest in such an important issue,” he said but added that he wanted to make sure that those in the school who wanted to say the Pledge of Allegiance weren’t offended. So after second period, Heiser got on the announcement system and had everyone say the pledge.
Heiser said he doesn’t know whether he would have allowed the moment of silence if the students had requested it beforehand, but he said he would have raised the question with the rest of the administrators and some teachers who have leadership roles and let them help decide.
“I wouldn’t have been opposed to it,” he said.
Whether it was the unusual morning announcement or the events themselves, Ferguson was a topic of discussion on Tuesday and Wednesday at the Baltimore County school.
“It was the most debated news issue that I have heard in my four years at Catonsville. I definitely heard a lot of talk,” said Ben Mansfield, 17, a senior.
Teachers discussed the issue in some classes, and Heiser said he was stopped in the hall by students who wanted to talk about it.
Mansfield said most students he talked to believed the officer should have been indicted.
“Most people that I talked to agreed that he should have been indicted and sent to trial. Most people thought the moment of silence was good but they felt as though not saying the Pledge of Allegiance was a little insulting to the student body,” he said.