The right to be heard

Senior Noa Fohrer speaks to her experience of holding a protest on campus

The right to peaceful protest is essential to fostering a civically engaged school community | Graphic by Ilana Zahavy ’24/Staff

 

Last spring, when I was informed of the possible overturning of Roe v. Wade, I was in disbelief. The possibility of losing rights to my body infuriated me. In no way, I thought, should another person be able to tell me what I’m allowed to do with my own body. I didn’t understand how that could be up for debate. I was not going to stay silent and just let it happen. I decided I needed to take action. I was going to lead some type of peaceful protest in hopes of motivating the LM community to protect an entire generation from a loss of basic rights. Four days later, as I was walking out of my art class with my friend, expecting no more than fifteen other people to join me, I opened the door to the main entrance and discovered I was leading a school-wide walkout with more than three hundred students. I felt the power of the student body supporting me. I could not have anticipated the storm that was brewing in the principal’s office just next door.  

The following week a senior at Harriton High School reached out about organizing another protest. I assembled a team of like-minded students to help lead the walkout. Our first thought was to inform administration just to ensure they were onboard – even if they couldn’t promote it. Mr. Stroup, LM’s athletics and activities director, told us that he could not do anything directly to assist us but was in full support of what we were protesting for. Despite my optimistic outlook on how the protest was bound to go, the morning of the protest, less than an hour before school started, Mr. Stroup sent an all school email on behalf of interim principal Scanlonl warning students that if they participated in the protest, they could be marked as cutting class, receive detention, or be barred from retaking all tests and assignments. 

Principal Scanlon opens his email with a specific reference to the LMSD student handbook. The quote read, “expression that is likely to or does materially and substantially interfere with the educational process.” My question to the board that implemented these policies would be; isn’t exercising our right to freedom of speech a form of education? Is the goal of the educational process – further than history dates and math equations – learning the importance of collaboration and leadership? The issue with current rules and implementation of those rules is that they have a narrow, outdated definition of the “educational process”. The simple truth is that the educational process no longer takes place in stiff chairs and stuffy rooms. It’s on the streets, in discourse, and between shouts of protest. So I ask, whose “education” are we really protecting?

In a system where we don’t have a lot of choice it’s easy to feel powerless. School tells us when we have to wake up, when we are allowed to speak, when we are allowed to go to the bathroom, when we are allowed to eat, etc. I’m not saying our school is terrible, I think we are very fortunate to be able to attend one of the best schools in the state, but I think we can all agree it can be a discouraging system that can make you feel voiceless. 

But we aren’t voiceless. To every student attending LM; know you have a voice. We all have a voice and we all can make ourselves heard. 

I think as a part of the school system our administrators should be fighting for us, fighting to protect us, fighting for our futures, right? Isn’t that their job? So then why doesn’t it feel like it? One student notes their final assessment was put, with no warning, on that very day. LMSD’s retake policy meant his final grade dropped from 96% to a final grade of 92%. Another student recounted receiving a detention, for her first class cut because she chose to fight for her body over going to a class. Stories like these show every other student, future or current, that these are the consequences for exercising their right to protest.

I ask the new principal and school board, not to take responsibility for past leadership’s mistakes but to learn from them. Despite what the student handbook might say, student’s will learn to take the torch of affecting change. We will become the generation that fights to the end and it’s important that we have a net to support us. I implore you to be on the right side of history we write. Because, detention or not, we will continue to learn these valuable lessons and advocate for ourselves. 

If there’s one thing to be taken away from the events of last Spring’s email, it’s that  we still walked out. We still marched. We still chanted. Isolated to the four walls of school where silence has become the norm, we still united as one. We were heard. We were featured on the local news, and inspired students from all around the tri state area. We did make an impact. 

So I ask every student to remember that their voice matters and the change they can cause is real. Speak up. Every voice matters, and maybe, we will educate those in power.

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