An Open Letter Concerning the "Speak Up! Sit In" Event

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An open letter to the members of the Muscogee County Board of Education:

March 14, 2018 was an important day. It marked the one month anniversary of the 17 students killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Students across the country decided to organize and participate in walkouts. However, due to supposed “safety issues”, the Muscogee County School District decided to hold the “Speak Up! Sit in” event. MCSD superintendent David Lewis described it as "a civics engagement activity that we believe will provide students with a safe and appropriate forum in which to express their thoughts and concerns.” As individuals who are directly affected by all policies about school safety, we are interested in opportunities to have our voices heard. However, despite the efforts by the county and individual schools to provide a safer alternative to the walkouts, we believe that the event was an extremely poor substitute.

We felt the “Speak Up, Sit In” event fell extremely short of increasing communication between students and state legislators. Instead of starting dialogue about gun violence, students were pacified. Some student representatives revealed that their questions were scripted. This was no surprise, as many of the questions were passive and insubstantial. Even at that, a number of students felt that our state legislators provided dodged the questions and ultimately contributed little to the conversation over gun violence in schools. We were told our voices would be heard, but instead they were censored, pacified, and met without substantial answers. Frankly, it felt more like a sham and an opportunity for state legislators to get positive press coverage.

We are speaking now to express our disappointment and discontent with the school district’s alternative to the walk-out protest. Many were hopeful that the “Speak Up! Sit In” event would provide a platform to exercise our civil liberties and have our voices be heard. We are afforded the opportunity to learn about our First Amendment rights in the classrooms MCSD provides. However, when the time came that students wanted to be civically engaged, the school district prevented us from truly exercising those rights.

The mission statement of MCSD states: “Our mission is to inspire and equip all students to achieve unlimited potential.” We believe this idea was left behind in the district’s decision to provide the “Speak Up! Sit In” alternative. We sincerely hope that the Muscogee County School District strives to improve the actions taken to express solidarity with tragedies such as these in the future.

Sincerely, concerned citizens of the Muscogee County School District.

Sponsored by: Gwyn Rush

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