Baltimore City Public School students are demanding comprehensive policy changes on police interaction with youth, school funding, and the city school’s curriculum
MEGAN SHERMAN, PRODUCER: On Friday, January 9, in Baltimore, a group of students from a local high school staged a walkout and occupied the school board headquarters, demanding increased student input on issues surrounding negative police interaction with young people, as well as what they call an irrelevant, outdated curriculum. STUDENT: The school board should be accountable to the student congress, as well as student bodies they are representing, by making decisions [incompr.] running policy past the students. And three, we want the 2015 school budget to allocate more money funding for programs to help students seek ownership of their education. We also believe that the programs that are part of 2015 budget need to be directed, targeted directly towards the schools most in need. SHERMAN: Makayla Gilliam-Price, a lead organizer and student in Baltimore City College High School, spoke about how student input is important for developing young people to be active citizens. MAKAYLA GILLIAM-PRICE, STUDENT ORGANIZER: Kids don’t have ownership of their education. They’re not choosing what they want to learn, they’re not learning anything that they need to know, which means that once they graduate, they’re not ready to be active participants. They’re ready to be scholars at an ivory tower in some white institution and not what we need today. We need kids who are willing to be engaged in politics, who are willing to provide whatever they need for their people. SHERMAN: This demonstration is one of many that have recently been led by students in protest of the state of Baltimore’s public schools. Students from Heritage High School and the Baltimore Algebra Project, a youth-led tutoring organization, led an action in early December demanding that school board officials renegotiate their decision to close the East Baltimore high school. Both groups of students linked their protest to the string of national unrest over the killing of unarmed black people like Michael Brown and Eric Garner. GILLIAM-PRICE: There’s been a lot of momentum and power around the Ferguson protests, as well as the Eric Garner non-indictment. And we just wanted to make the connection between what’s been going on around the country to the students in Baltimore. So we marched today with the theme of we’re marching against the school-to-prison pipeline. We wanted to give students ownership of their education so that their studies can be relevant, so that they don’t have to have to turn to a life of crime. This also means that we don’t want police confronting students on a day-to-day basis, treating them as criminals, so that they then eventually fall into the mold of being criminals. And a lot of our demands were shaped around implementing restorative justice within the school system, so that kids aren’t going directly to the police officers if they don’t have to. It’s more of a school board, let’s work it out in the community. And I think this is just a microcosm for what we need to be doing in society. We do not need to be turning our youth, or anyone, for that matter, over to the police officers if they do not have to. We need to be solving our issues in our communities. We need to be building institutions in our communities to handle these issues ourselves. SHERMAN: The students demanded a meeting with City School CEO, Gregory E. Thornton. The CEO was out of town, therefore unable to meet with students, but sent a message through his staff, which promised them that a city-wide listening tour would be conducted to hear students’ grievances and develop solutions to the issues at hand. A. HASSAN CHARLES, BCPSS DIR. OF COMM. ENGAGEMENT: The district supports community involvement in the strengthening of families and education of your young leaders. We also understand this is a critical moment across the country, where our young people feeling disenfranchised and their voices largely been ignored. We want to encourage constructive dialog among students and parents, faculty, and district leadership. Not only are we committed to meeting with students, but we’re willing to partner with them to help identify solutions, and to also conduct a citywide listening tour, so that we can hear from students all across the city. GILLIAM-PRICE: While that was an amazing step in the right direction, it’s not at all what we came here for, right? A dialogue is not enough. It will never be enough. What they have failed to realize in every meeting we have had prior to this is that having voice is extremely different from having power. We, as students, want power. Our voices have been heard. We have been yelling at the top of our lungs for improvement, and we’re still trying to be silenced. Do not let them pacify us. Do not let them shut us up and say this is enough, this is all we’re going to do. A listening tour once is not what we came here for. We came here to no longer be intimidated by police, we came here to fight against the school-to-prison pipeline, we came here to have power and representation within this building, and we did not get that today. SHERMAN: Student leaders were not satisfied with the response and continued their protests further onto North Avenue, where the eventually blocked traffic, and one student supporter was arrested. They later told us in a statement that “City Bloc is excited to be working with the Office of Engagement at City Schools to begin increasing student involvement in the decision making process at North Ave. (…) We know that neither the students or the district can do this alone and we will be drafting a new framework through which students can voice their concerns.” The Real News will continue to cover this story as it develops. This is Megan Sherman reporting with The Real News Network.
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