Students Protest Secrecy From Administration

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Students Protest Secrecy From Administration

Trevor Carmack

Trevor Carmack

Trevor Carmack

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Monday, May 7, was already set up to be a contentious day at Blacksburg High School. With AP exams starting that day, SOLs and final exams fast approaching, and the Senior class fighting off the final waves of senioritis, the mood of the student population was already a tense one. To add to this, approximately 200 students staged a sit in on the front steps of BHS, demanding a meeting with administration.

 

The decision to protest stemmed from recent personnel decisions made by the school board, notably including the dismissals of history teacher Bradley Kraft and Principal Brian Kitts. The reasons for both Kraft’s and Kitts’ absence was left a mystery to both faculty and students. Needless to say, no one was thrilled about this, and this secrecy resulted in a sit-in organized by students including Carson Hopkins, Christian Shushok, Brian Bush, Cypress Ambrose, and Giovanni Mills.

 

“We just saw a pattern in a way that the events in our school are communicated with the students, community, and staff. And it was not communicated in a beneficial or effective way, and we thought that needed to change. We reached out and tried to have conversations but that wasn’t happening, so we decided the protest was the best way to gain attention and traction to get this moving,” said Hopkins, junior.

 

As the crowd of students gathered in the student parking lot, a nervous energy coursed through the sea of people as they waited for someone to speak. Shortly before the start of school, Shushok and Hopkins stood on the stairs above the parking lot and delivered their message. They clearly stated the goal of their protest and distributed flyers that contained their list of requests to the administration. The two students also made sure to point out this sit-in was supposed to be a peaceful protest as many students glanced around at the heavy police presence around the crowd.

 

“I think that both me, and the group of students I worked with, saw a problem and we knew that nobody in the administration was going to address it, and a lot of our teachers weren’t able to address it. I have always kinda believed that if you want to see a change, you have to believe you are capable of it,” said Shushok, junior.

 

The students then made the short march from the student parking lot to the front steps of the school, where they all took a seat and began the sit-in. The organizers of the protests placed an emphasis on not talking to the media, so, despite local outlets including the Roanoke Times sending a reporter, all they could do was watch on in silence.

 

What happened next was a sweeping victory for the protestors. After a little over an hour, the organizers of the protest completed their meeting with administration, and they signed their list of demands.

 

These demands included:

  1. Principal Kitts should be permitted to have representation at the school board meeting, and these deliberations should take place in front of community members who are allowed to give their testimonies.
  2. The release of a comprehensive list of the reasons that a staff member can be immediately removed from his or her position.
  3. BHS staff members should have the right to speak on their own behalf at the upcoming school board meeting without the fear of retribution.
  4. A council should be formed that includes members of the MCPS central office, and teachers along with administration from Blacksburg High School. The goal of this is to mend the broken trust between the county and BHS.
  5. A personal pledge from Dr. Miear and the rest of the MCPS central office to be more transparent with staff and students, and to review county policy regarding staff freedom of speech and mental health.

 

“The concessions signed by our administration are a really good first step, and we have our foot in the door, and we have a line of communication set up. But that doesn’t mean that students should stop talking. Look at the way your teachers are being treated, look at the transparency that is in the media, and if you see a problem then see that the administration is held accountable,” said Shushok.

 

After an agreement was reached on these issues, the attention of the protests turned to Tuesday’s School Board meeting. The boardroom was packed with parents and students alike who remained past the regularly scheduled portion of the meeting in order to voice their displeasure for the way the School Board has been handling these issues. Multiple parents spoke, inquiring as to why the school would dismiss a beloved member of the school community so casually, and asking why this could not have waited until graduation.

 

Giovanni Mills, a junior and one of the organizers of the sit-in, also stood up and read anonymous statements from teachers that expressed a current lack of faith in central office administration.

 

Despite the forward progress these students seem to have made, they are not finished yet.

 

“It is in our hands. We all have to work together to reach the goal of having a better school community and having the MCPS central office behind us. Five of us can’t do that; it has to be a group movement,” said Hopkins.

 

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