By Coco Hill
After the inspiring gathering led by the newly assembled Beacon United Unions on Friday, December 13, students and staff were left anticipating the continuation of the powerful student-led movement. Students were instructed to look to the BUU’s Instagram page for updates on the expected demonstration. Throughout the weekend, those who had access to the Instagram page were able to keep up to date with the status of the sit-in. By the end of the weekend, most students who wanted to participate were aware of the plan of action and were prepared to act powerfully in support of the fight for a safe educational environment. However, teachers were left days without official notice or advisory about how to approach the sit-in.
Seeing students take their safety into their own hands was a powerful message to the staff. Anecdotes were shared describing unsafe experiences within classrooms without protection from teachers; some students even shared experiences in which they held their teachers directly responsible for discrimination within the classroom. After such an eye-opening experience, teachers were left just as emotional as students. But, some struggled to come to terms with their limited abilities in supporting and encouraging students. Many teachers were left unsure of how to proceed with their teachings during the sit-in, as well as how to implement an overt change in their classrooms that would satisfy students’ demands.
Following Friday’s meeting, teachers received no official statement regarding the situation until the end of the weekend. Late Sunday, they received a message informing them of an emergency meeting before school on Monday. In the early morning meeting, teachers were advised not to directly participate in the sit-in, however, it was suggested that they accommodate their lesson of the day to address the problems that had arisen. One teacher recalls, “we were advised to use our own judgment regarding exams missed, assignments due, etc. but the overall consensus among those present was to be lenient; we were told not to speak to the press.” From what is known of the content of this staff meeting, it is clear that the main goal of the staff was to support the students’ cause. Staff also intended not to punish students for partaking in the sit-in. The administration’s compliance to students’ “disobedience” raises a question that often presents itself among the Beacon community: is a protest effective if it is supported by authority?
The staff also received a statement addressed to the entirety of the school, including students. In the statement signed by Ruth Lacey, she states that the entirety of the Beacon community “share the goal of creating a school that supports and encourages every person to learn and to feel valued”, and to execute this goal, all sides must take responsibility. In response to this email, many teachers felt that it did not feel natural, nor genuine and that it had possibly been written with the help of a staff of lawyers. However, these same teachers recognized that that execution was necessary to prevent the Administration from being legally liable.
Some active students felt similarly towards the email, as well as the process as a whole. There were a number of meetings between Beacon Administration, Staff and representatives from the Department of Education. For a few of the meetings, representatives from the Beacon United Unions were allowed to attend. A leading member of Beacon United Unions, who was present at multiple meetings between the Beacon staff and the Department of Education, noted that the teachers “were definitely on board”, as well as the DOE members, who he described to be very accepting of the demands. Although, when asked whether there was a feeling of authority and influence of the DOE representatives over the administration, he responded: “Definitely. It felt very weird.” He felt that what was discussed in the meetings represented what they found most appropriate to discuss, as well as the safest, seeing as there were legal restrictions. From a teachers’ perspective, the overall tone from teachers, school administration, and the representatives from the Department of Education was “mostly sympathetic, with few exceptions.” Despite the prevalent feeling among Beacon students that their actions feel unimpactful, our actions have begun to make a change, and will continue to do so if we continue to fight for it.