DJUSD attracted regional attention when the Sacramento Bee back in mid-March ran a story, “This district in a liberal California city marked down the names of student protesters.”
Board member Madhavi Sunder requested the board to examine its policy, telling her colleagues in a prepared statement on March 15, “I believe that the district and the Board failed to take advantage of a unique educational opportunity that this emergent national youth movement presents.”
Ms. Sunder pointed out that a million children “mobilized peacefully and passionately across the country at 10 a.m. yesterday to tell their elected representatives in Washington, DC that the right to be safe and secure in school is a fundamental human right.
“I am incredibly proud that 1300 Davis students joined them. More than 200 elementary school students in Davis participated in the organized national walkout,” she said.
She stated, “I am disappointed that Davis took a tentative approach to this national event.”
Superintendent John Bowes noted that, while the students across the district took part in the walkouts and did so in an “orderly, calm, peaceful and respectful” manner, their conduct was subject to discipline.
He stated that “students and our school community received clear communications from my office and from our site leaders consistent with the guidance provided post-Presidential election in 2016 and our current district policy, that students who leave class to participate in protests or other unauthorized reasons would be considered ‘unexcused.’”
The board will now examine two policies related to student disturbances.
Administrative Regulation 5131.4 states that students involved in prohibited activities shall be subject to discipline. These including “disturbing the peace” and “disrupting school operations.”
This also includes “exercising free expression which … so incites students as to create a clear and present danger of the commission of unlawful acts on school premises or the violation of lawful school regulations, or substantially disrupting the orderly operation of the school (Ed Code 48907).”
- Organizing or participating in unauthorized assemblies on school premises
- Participating in sit-ins or stand-ins which deny students or employees normal access to school premises
Board Policy 5131.4 states: “The Board of Education desires to provide orderly campuses that create a positive school environment and are conducive to learning. When students initiate or are involved in a campus disturbance that has the potential to threaten the safety of students or staff, the Superintendent or designee may request law enforcement assistance.”
This includes CF 5145.2 on Freedom of Speech/Expression. “Students who participate in a campus disturbance shall be subject to disciplinary action in accordance with Board policy and administrative regulations.”
There has been a good deal of feedback from the community about the walk out.
At the last board meeting, Superintendent Bowes noted that some of this was “gratitude for district efforts to keep students safe and allow space for all voices and perspectives to be heard and respected.” Some of it was “support for student activism and a call to change our district policy to do away with unexcused absences for protests and walkouts.”
There was also “opposition to any student demonstrations during school hours and calls for punitive measures on those who take part.”
He concluded: “I am proud of our students who expressed their beliefs in a respectful and peaceful way and recognizing that an unexcused absence would result.”
There were members of the public that came to speak out against the policy.
Rachel Beck said that she was concerned from the start about the tone of the district communique on the walk out. She pointed out that when the district sees political speech, they make an effort to be neutral and treat all political speech as neutral.
“But I would ask, who gets to say what’s political?” she asked. “Who gets to designate an issue as untouchable? Whose issues are served by making an issue up for political debate?”
Cindy Pickett said that students across the nation sent a message “on no uncertain terms they indicated that they’ve had enough. Enough of the school shootings that have killed and injured, enough of feeling like their safety is secondary in the eyes of the legislature, and enough of being left out of the conversation.
“I applaud these students in Davis,” she said.
Ms. Pickett stated, “What I’m not proud of, however, is the response of the DJUSD administration.” She called the response of the administration “bureaucratic at best, and vaguely threatening at worst.”
She said that the message was safety above all, but she pointed out that if they are thinking of safety only in terms of leaving campus, “that’s missing the forest through the trees.
“The forest is that we have a national problem and that’s what we should be focusing on,” she said. “To focus on these details I think misses the point.”
For a lot of parents, the unexcused absence was not a big deal, she said. “But bringing it up sent a message. It sent the message that, hey kids… I guess we have to let you protest because it’s your right, but we wish you wouldn’t so here’s an unexcused absence.”
At this point there is no staff recommendation for action, the board will simply review and discuss board policy as it relates to 5131.4.
—David M. Greenwald reporting