Students protesting teacher termination meet with administration
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On Wednesday, March 15, 2017, RBHS students staged a sit-in that lasted for roughly three hours. The protest was led by students who believed their voices were not heard in response to the unanimous District #208 Board of Education ruling to non-renew history teacher Jill Musil.
In response to the protest, District 208 Superintendent Kevin Skinkis held a meeting with some protest organizers: sophomore Christian Cotham, junior Bailey Hastings, freshman Kenna Howorth, senior Esmeralda Macias, senior Rosie Nolan, junior Tosin Olowu, senior Dalila Ovalle, senior Gianni Segarra, junior Casey Whisler, and senior Shannon Wrzesinski. Principal Kristin Smetana and Assistant Principal for Curriculum and Instruction Kylie Gregor were also in attendance.
The meeting lasted for over an hour as the students expressed their concerns and the administration listened and provided them with the answers they were able to share at that moment.
“For the most part yesterday, I thought the students did a nice job in being respectful and organizing their concerns. When I came out and presented the opportunity to meet with them, I thought the student leaders that the group assigned came in with some clear questions,” said Skinkis.
Skinkis started the meeting by complementing the student protesters for being respectful and expressing their concerns. Skinkis also made it clear that at that time that he would not be able to go into full detail on some issues, yet he vowed to provide the information he could.
“I tried the best I could to answer those questions on what could be shared and what could not be shared,” said Skinkis.
The students in the meeting expressed that the information presented to the public on the non-renewal of Musil was too vague. The protesters believed that “not demonstrating professionalism” was unclear reasoning as a cause for Musil’s dismissal.
“We are upset at the lack of trust the administration has in its students. We are upset with the unjust reasons behind the termination of Mrs. Musil. We are frustrated with the dismissal of our comments and the ignorance the administration has presented,” said the students leaders through a public statement that was circulated on social media.
The administration then made it clear that Musil was not fired for her beliefs or because of untrue speculations that Musil helped organize the November protest against racist graffiti found in the school bathroom.
According to the statement from the student leaders: “Dr. Skinkis said that the controversy with the Black Lives Matter post-it notes on the wall and the initial protest in November had nothing to do with the fact that Mrs. Musil was not renewed.”
The administration then stated that Musil was not professional in talking politics, and teachers have to educate the students on their assigned curriculum from all viewpoints while keeping a neutral standard. Gregor stressed that politically charged statements run the risk of danger, and that the safety of the students is the primary concern.
The protesters then responded and expressed that staying neutral is dangerous to those being oppressed, and when schools stay neutral they cannot progress.
According to the statement from the student leaders: “The responsibility of schools is to be neutral, however, students were upset about the lack of action on certain topics.”
The student leaders strongly began to discuss that the unanimous board ruling made them feel that their comments and opinions expressed at board meetings prior to the final decision were not heard. The student leaders were also concerned for Musil’s future career, so they felt that if Musil was given help by the administration in her future, that the protesters were listened to.
According to the statement from the student leaders: “Because there is no process of appeals, and the Board’s 7-0 decision was final, Mrs. Musil will not be back at RBHS next year. This means she will obviously have to find a new job, so the matter of letters of recommendation came up in discussion. Dr. Skinkis assured students that if Mrs. Musil needs letters of recommendation they will be provided.”
The meeting wrapped up in the student leaders wanting action in educating the staff and students on diversity.
“I think the discussion shifted pretty quickly in fashion from the incident of Ms. Musil’s non-renewal, to a larger scale issue of students wanting to be able to be heard and wanting to be able to work with the staff across the board at RB to be more alert and responsive to diversity and acceptance,” said Skinkis.
The administration made it clear that they were not trying to silence any of the protesters, that they want more voices to be heard, and that they want more of these types of meetings to be held in the future.
According to the statement from the student leaders: “The administration made clear that they are interested in creating a dialogue to ensure student concerns are heard, especially those of minority students.”