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Tukwila School Board Meeting Report - What was achieved and next steps

The Tukwila teachers and Students struggle continues.
Students and Community Demand Accountability at Tukwila School Board Meeting
What Was Achieved and Next Steps

From the Tukwila Teachers and Students Solidarity Committee

December 18, 2007

On December 11th, for the second time in two weeks, approximately 100 students and community members attended the meeting of the school board in Tukwila, Washington to support the democratic free speech rights of the staff and students from Foster High School.

The controversy began on November 16th when 125 students walked out of classes and poured into the streets as part of a national student walkout to protest the Iraq war called by Youth Against War and Racism. Students specifically focused on the spending priorities of the government, calling for money for education, not war. Students also demonstrated against dishonest, predatory recruiting practices among military recruiters on their campuses.

One teacher walked out with students and was subsequently placed on administrative leave. He and several other teachers, one of whom allowed students to make up their own informed decision about whether to walk out or not, were threatened with disciplinary investigations. A campaign of harassment and intimidation was also commenced against students. Students and community activists immediately organized to defend the teachers' jobs, but the Principal took down students' posters and even brought in 8 tall police men to break up and disperse a peaceful student gathering.

Students responded by collecting 300 signatures of mostly students and organized a press conference to protest these violations of their Constitutional rights. The administration wanted to stop this student movement, but they realized that students wouldn't let them get away with violating their free speech rights anymore. So administrators decided to suspend one of the student activists for 9 days supposedly for questioning a teacher who asked her 2-3 times to put her Ipod away even though 8-9 other students right next to her had Ipods out because it was a free period with a substitute teacher and no lesson plan. (For more info: www.yawr.org)

At a previous school board meeting, in front of both local and national (TV, print, and radio) media, the school board tried to ignore the presence of approximately one-hundred sign-toting students and antiwar activists. The meeting this week began with a similar tone. However, this time the district placed a school employee -- who was clearly hostile to the demonstrators and stated at the previous meeting that the "teachers should be fired" -- at the door to enforce the fire code and limit the number of people in the hearing room. Police locked peaceful community members out of the meeting and the building. So community members started chanting chants like "let the teachers teach!" Then police threatened to arrest them for chanting—once again violating people's Constitutional right to free speech.

The school board meeting agenda called for a Work Study Session entitled "political expression and the public schools: rights responsibilities of students, staff, and schools boards." This was perceived as a public hearing period, but the district instead tried to limit the discussion to their district lawyers and several previously selected and approved students. After students and community members persistently complained that only a select group were being allowed to speak, Foster Student Action, a recently formed group of student activists from Foster, eventually were given an opportunity to speak, and they articulately and passionately laid out a case of harassment, intimidation, and inequitable application of school policies and rules.

Foster High School is overwhelmingly comprised of working-class students: 71% of students qualify for the federal Free/ Reduced Lunch program, and approximately 30% speak English as a second language. Most seniors are not passing the WASL state exam and therefore may not be allowed to graduate. The school board and Foster administration had grown accustomed to students and teachers following their orders, even though the district is underserving the students and failing to equip them for their futures. This was the first time the students as an organized group stood up for something they believed in, and the administration simply did not expect the students to defend some of their best teachers' jobs in such an organized, determined way.

In the aftermath of the student presentations, the school board attempted to punt on many of the students' concerns, stating that these items were "beyond their jurisdiction" and up to the building administrator (who was in the room, yet largely silent). Community members then largely spoke in support of the Foster students and against the policies of the administration.

It helped the students and teachers enormously to have the assistance of parents, local community members, Neighbors for Peace, the head of the local NAACP, the Tukwila Teachers and Students Solidarity Committee, Socialist Alternative, and Youth Against War and Racism. All parties present agreed the school board had largely failed the students of Foster High School. The students' testimony showed the school district leaders are not providing these students the education they deserve, and they are running an overly repressive school environment and should change their ways.

What Was Achieved

Students and community members exposed the administrators' hollow arguments and tactics and put an immense amount of pressure on administrators not to discipline students and teachers. After 2 hours of intense debate, though, the school board still refused to agree to the students' demands to: (1) drop the investigations against teachers, (2) overturn the suspension of the student activist, and (3) ban military recruiters from Foster High School.

It is quite possible, however, that administrators will be afraid not to rehire the teachers after their probationary period is completed next semester or next year, which has been the students' main demand. After school administrators faced large angry crowds at school board meetings, bad media publicity, and the flooding of their phone lines and email inboxes (to the point where the Superintendent had to remove her email address from the school district's website), they will certainly think twice about whether they want to face a new round of protests before they consider not re-hiring the teachers next semester or next year. So the students could still achieve their main demand, which would be a significant victory.

The other major achievement out of this whole struggle was the heightened political consciousness and activism of teachers, students, workers, and unions. News of the struggle was broadcasted through corporate and independent media outlets locally and across the country. The Seattle teachers union (the Seattle Education Association) and the United Teachers of Los Angeles (the 2nd largest teachers union in the country) adopted resolutions supporting students and pledging to defend the teachers if they are not rehired. Activists in the largest teachers union in the country in New York City and other antiwar and labor groups are also working to line up more support.

Most importantly, everyone involved witnessed the stiff opposition from those in power at the national and local levels of government who are allowing this unpopular war for oil and power and military recruitment in schools to continue. People can see more clearly now the kind of ardent determination and mass movement of students, workers, and soldiers that needs to be organized to end these policies that benefit the US corporate elite at the expense of most ordinary Iraqis and Americans.

Next Steps
Students are filing an official appeal to have the one student's suspension overturned or at least erased from her record. Students are also preparing to set up information tables and collect petition signatures right next to military recruiters whenever they show up to organize students and staff behind their goal of making schools off-limits to military recruiters. This will help attract more students to get involved in Foster Student Action and maintain a consistent presence in the school in case administrators try not to rehire the teachers next semester or next year. These school leaders need to be held accountable, and the coalition of activists in support of Foster Student Action pledges its continued support for their democratic actions.

By Nathan Bowling and Ramy Khalil

If you want to:

- Help Foster Student Action,

- Arrange for a speaker to come to your school to do an antiwar teach-in

- Organize a Youth Against War and Racism group in your school to counter military recruiters or drive them out of your school,

- Help the Tukwila Teachers and Students Solidarity Committee, and

- Mobilize people to the next large antiwar protest on the 5th Anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq

- Find out more about and get involved with Socialist Alternative

then please go to our websites and/or contact us!

Foster Student Action:  foster.action@gmail.com

Tukwila Teachers and Students Solidarity Committee:  tukwilateachers@yahoo.com (253) 573-9252 (we'll get back to you as soon as we can)

For more info/Youth Against War and Racism: www.yawr.org  seattle@yawr.org
For more info/Socialist Alternative: www.SocialistAlternative.org (206) 841-5566  seattle@socialistalternative.org


Pacifica KCBS 91.3 FM:



New York City Indymedia:
 link to www.indypendent.org

Please forward this email widely.

Please also call and email school administrators and be ready to defend the teachers if they are not re-hired next semester or next year.

 mfertakis@comcast.net,  pmaltsberger2000@yahoo.com,  jasminkakujundzic@yahoo.com,  wahlsea@yahoo.com,  burkee@tukwila.wednet.edu,  ilgenfritzg@tukwila.wednetedu,  tukwila.teachers.solidarity@hotmail.com

(Sample protest letter at yawr.org)

Superintendent Ethelda Burke: (206) 901-8000, (206) 901-8006
Foster HS Principal George Ilgenfritz: (206) 901-7905
Foster HS Vice Principal Daryl Wright (206) 901-7902
Foster HS Office Manager Darlene Aguiluz (206) 901-7915

Thanks for your support and solidarity!