A petition has been started by Washoe County School District student Mia Albright and fellow members of a student organization called WCSD Students for Change. It’s collecting signatures in opposition to the district’s announcement that teachers should not lend their support to the Black Lives Matter movement while at work.
On Aug. 14, WCSD issued a release concerning its decision on the Black Lives Matter movement, explaining it as “limits to Freedom of Speech as it applies to both our staff and our students.” The official statement also said, “Our District community, much like our national community, holds a variety of political viewpoints and, in some instances those viewpoints are in conflict. We have an obligation to accommodate and welcome students and staff from a wide variety of backgrounds.”
The Change.org petition by Albright directed to Superintendent Kristen McNeill and WCSD, reads “the district has an obligation to its 64,000 students to provide an anti-racist education.”
“The first step in meeting this obligation is to update [the] curriculum to address anti-racism and eliminate white supremacy from our teaching.”
Demands presented in the petition include:
- Reverse the withholding of teachers from supporting Black Lives Matter on school campuses
- Commit to the implementation of anti-racist education, BIPOC and LGBTQ+ history in both worldly and American contexts
- Implementation of focus groups and ambassadorships with student representatives focused on racial equity within schools
- Climate survey questions and opportunities for students to highlight their experience with racial injustice or other forms of hate based harassment at their school
- Increased effort to hire a teaching body that reflects the demographics of the student body.
Students engaging in activism
This Is Reno talked with Hanna Branch, from WCSD Students for Change and came to know that there are about 15 students from Black, brown and white communities spearheading the movement. Branch is a senior in the Wooster International Baccalaureate program, and is white.
Isabel Peralta, a Galena High School senior who identifies as Hispanic, posted on Twitter about leading a Black Lives Matter movement that will “impact kids starting K-12.”
According to Branch, this single Tweet energized the students and soon WCSD Students for Change was born with Peralta as the founder.
“After the national Black Lives Matter protests were sparked, it became apparent to me how little I know about African American history,” Peralta said in an email. “Many students in my generation—myself included— had to spend time breaking down misconceptions and relearning our history.”
In the last school district meeting the student group had a direct conversation with McNeill, who “listened to us,” said Branch. However, she noted that the group recognizes it might take a long time before the school district actually fulfils some of their demands.
According to Peralta, prior to the school district’s directive that teachers refrain from supporting BLM while at work, “members of the WCSD have been very collaborative in our conversations surrounding implementing anti-racist education, pointing to and praising programs in the district working towards equity. They invited students to become involved in positions and groups that would allow our voices to contribute to curricular change.”
This is why Peralta feels that the district “contradicted their initially welcoming response.”
“The district has politicized the lives of Black people, jeopardizing their commitment to the protection of civil rights. It’s disheartening to say the least…,” she added.
At the moment, the group is talking to teachers from local schools and to district leaders. They are also posting on social media content to create awareness about their efforts and Black history.
This Is Reno reached out to the school district for a comment and will update this article when it is received.
McNeill shares district perspective
During a Facebook livestreaming event hosted on Tuesday by local therapist Dr. Norris DuPree, Jr., McNeill was asked to address her perspective on the Black Lives Matter movement’s inclusion in the district’s policy forbidding teachers from engaging in political activities while at work.
“It’s Board Policy 13.10, and it talks about political activities in schools,” McNeill said.
The policy states that “during school hours no student or other person shall be subjected to partisan political activities on Washoe County School District (“District”) property or at District-sponsored events.” It also lists out dos and don’ts on the same.
McNeill said because education is compulsory for students, teachers need to be able to make students of all different backgrounds and from families with varying political views feel safe and comfortable in schools—and not to unduly influence their beliefs.
“They could have influence over any type of political activity that is happening around the country,” she said. “And the concern is that undue influence over the students. Now, are they able to have that dialogue and that conversation about what’s happening within our country? I would sure hope that they’re able to do that—and to listen to students’ perspectives, because there are a lot of student perspectives out there. And to have that courageous conversation in the classroom—but being able to mediate it, being able to make sure it’s a safe space for students and being able to articulate ‘Your beliefs are just as important as my beliefs, and I can have my beliefs as an individual.’”
Sudhiti (Shu) Naskar is a multimedia journalist and researcher who has years of experience covering international issues. In the role of a journalist, she has covered gender, culture, society, environment, and economy. Her works have appeared on BBC, The National, The Wall Street Journal, Marie Claire, Reno Gazette-Journal, Caravan and more. Her interests lie in the intersection of art, politics, social justice, education, tech, and culture. She took a sabbatical from media to attend graduate school at the University of Nevada Reno in 2017. In this period, she has won awards, represented her school at an international conference and successfully defended her thesis on political disinformation at the Reynolds School of Journalism where she earned her Master’s in Media Innovation.