By Abby Kimball
from her speech at the Rally for Public Education October 5, 2013
I wanted to explain to the best of my ability to all of you here today why the student voice has been so absent from the discourse on our teachers in the last couple of years. You see, parents are very vocal, they fight on forums on Facebook, they yell things with no fear, and even make documentaries. Teachers are a little less loud, but they still are heard: they have rallies, they speak in shadows on film, or even stand for hours holding signs. However, the students are almost completely silent. I began a student group in November of 2011 called ‘Students for the Future’, I attempted to make it a school club, but I was told that because my education was so ‘politically charged’ I could not advertise my organization to the student body, I could not have a teacher leader, and I couldn’t even have meetings during school hours.
My fellow students and I fought hard against this decision of the administration, but we were eventually pushed into an online communication only. Though we had over a hundred members from every class, from multiple schools, and from AP, IB and the honors program, it was impossible to organize any activities. I believe this was for two reasons, the first is the course load that comes with being an honors student that truly inhibits your free time. But the second reason, the most important reason, was that I believe many students were intimidated.
When you see your teachers, your role models, talking in hushed voices, looking worried, and even leaving the school, you know you should be worried too. Some student groups such as ‘Educated Citizen’ were anonymous and many a time their totally appropriate comments were deleted without warning from the district Facebook page. A petition signed by over 200 students went completely ignored. And attempts to communicate with the school board were met with no comment. As students, we felt like we were being silenced, even threatened, many a time, and though we felt some exhilaration from fighting against a structure as individual agents, we also began to feel like Winston Smith, Alice Paul, or Guy Montag.
The students attempted to adapt. They made us take three off hours? We sat in on classes to learn, not for a grade, but for the sake of learning. The occupants in the library were over fire code? We found a private study room to focus. However, these solutions were stripped away as we were threatened with referrals for being anywhere, but the overcrowded library during our mandatory off hours. The students were appalled that we could no longer be in classrooms with our favorite teachers, or in a quiet study room, and we reacted with a petition. That petition (of over 200 signatures) was never looked at and simply thrown away, we were told ‘go to Starbucks’.
Even in the testimonies I collected, many current students rejected to add their thoughts out of fear of retaliation from the school board and the ones that did testify, signed anonymously. Dakota, Kammer, Bill, and I appeared in the documentary ‘The Reformers’ because we were given an opportunity to finally be heard, and instead of listening to us, instead of asking us for clarification, we were accused of not being accurate in our accounts. Well, in just one week (during midterms may I add) a ton of students testified with the same complaints. These students represent the best of the best, the kids that Douglas County School District claims they are trying to produce: prom queens, valedictorians, class presidents, club leaders, lead actors, band directors, and honors students. Now, you can claim we were manipulated, you can claim that we are too young to understand, you can and will, defend yourselves by putting down your students. But, be aware, we are no longer timid or threatened. You have no power over us anymore, we are free and we will defend the teachers and the programs that made us who we are. We are no longer silent, we are shouting.