Silent Protests at Liechty Middle School
from A Day Like This Blog by Emily Henry
Initial reports suggested that 65 students fromLiechty Middle Schoolwere denied diplomas after silently protesting against graduation speaker and LAUSD Board President Monica Garcia during the ceremony on Thursday, June 18. On Monday, 50 of those diplomas were handed out to students who denied partaking in the protest, according to teachers, but, as NBC reports, 15 students are still having diplomas withheld after admitting to turning their backs on Garcia during the ceremony and refusing to stand up.
According to student Ender Perez, when the protesting group approached the stage to receive their certificates, Principal Jeanette Stevens had some bad news.
“She squeezed my hand and said I wouldn’t get my diploma,” said Perez.
Parents protesting the 15 diploma denials were turned away from Liechty Middle School Monday morning. The statement issued by the school implied that the decision to delay awarding certificates was a form of punishment for disrespectful behavior. The school issued the following statement:
The LAUSD’s John Liechty Middle School works to provide students with an appropriate learning environment that includes being safe, being responsible and being respectful. During any school event, Liechty Middle School expects students to demonstrate respectful behavior. We have postponed distribution of approximately 15 eighth grade certificates until we are able to discuss the culmination events with those students and parents. Today, Monday, June 22, 2009, we are continuing to issue diplomas to all parents that come to school and meet with school officials. More than 500 culmination certificates were distributed at Friday’s event and this morning.
Respectful vs. Disrespectful Outrage
This is, by no means, the first group of students to protest the LAUSD budget cuts and teacher layoffs (coming into effect on June 30) in recent months. Many schools have staged walk-outs and sit-ins, some peaceful and some less so. The question is: when does an intelligent protest become an excuse for uninformed mass hysteria and anarchy? The former is a citizen’s right. The latter is grounds for punishment.
In the case of Liechty Middle School, it seems that punishment was not only unwarranted, but actually counter-productive. If the students caused no harm other than to express their personal outrage through a silent gesture, the school has only polarized the situation by responding with a disciplinary action. And unjust punishment only provokes people further, sometimes turning silent outrage into more hostile forms of protest.
A few weeks ago, during a meeting at Santee High School, representatives from the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools responded to recent walk-outs by warning students against any form of protest that would interfer with the school day or impede student learning. “Action can be loud and strong outside the school day,” said PLAS CEO Marshal Tuck.
Compared to walk-outs, which do, indeed, infringe on student learning and cause significant upheaval, a group of students - outside of school - turning their backs on a public official whom they believe to have acted unjustly seems like the epitome of peaceful protesting.