Manatee County Protesters Confront School Board at Tuesday’s Meeting

Four student protesters confronted the Manatee County School District Board about the student code of conduct requiring written consent from a parent or guardian to engage in the “take a knee” protest of the national anthem and pledge of allegiance.

(Protest organizer Mercury Clarke and others confronted the board on Tuesday)

The board received impassioned pleas from students and individual community members condemning the district’s recent defense of the student code as a violation of the constitutional rights of Manatee County students.

 

“Manatee County should be ashamed of itself for standing on the side of white supremacy and taking the wrong side of history with its directive,” said Ruth Beltran, a community organizer representing Action Together Suncoast and mother of a Manatee County student, to the district board. “I expect the school district to rectify this directive, to make right where it has done wrong.”

The backdrop of the national protests started by former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick has served as a cultural flashpoint in sparking student protests nationwide, according to Axios. The current wave of student protests challenging the status quo across Florida has forced school administrators to scramble in response.
 
Manatee County should be ashamed of itself for standing on the side of white supremacy and taking the wrong side of history with its directive,” said Ruth Beltran, a community organizer representing Action Together Suncoast and mother of a Manatee County student, to the district board. “I expect the school district to rectify this directive, to make right where it has done wrong.
 
In a recent report from WJXT in Jacksonville on October 5, a Jacksonville private school required student-athletes to sign a contract without notifying parents, stating in the contract that they would stand for the national anthem at school sporting events.
For Manatee County, the board’s outlining of the school’s policy took place in mid-June, before the upsurge in student demonstrations according to district board chair, Charlie Kennedy.
In a previous interview with student protest co-organizer Leah Tiberini, the student code of conduct’s mandate is representative of the culture of intimidation promulgated by a faction of faculty and students against other students that are supportive of the protest movement.
 
The students will always win you know, this was a direct attack on us, this is our rights,” said Clarke.
 
“Obviously, the role of a teacher is to make kids feel secure, and if there’s a situation where a student feels like they’re being harassed or intimidated by a teacher, that needs to go to the principal right away,” said Kennedy said in a response following Tuesday’s meeting.
During the meeting, Hal Trejo, 20, a transgender student activist representing the student protesters echoed Tiberini’s sentiment and went a step further. Trejo cited district data from a 2016 Bradenton Herald article that Black students are suspended three times as often as white students in Manatee County public schools and are now subject to, “being stifled in attempting to speaking out against said injustices.”
 
District General Counsel Mitchell Teitelbaum stated, “Our student code of conduct codifies (Florida State Statute) 1003.44” in his closing remarks to the board on Tuesday.
 
“It’s not political, it’s legal,” he said. “And we are upholding this statute.”
 
In response to Teitelbaum’s defense of the code, district chair Kennedy reiterated to the board that the conversation on the district policy has just begun.
 
“I think there’s probably a legal challenge on the way, and we as the board are going to have to do what we are elected to do,” Kennedy said.
 
It’s not political, it’s legal,” he said. “And we are upholding this statute.” – Mitchell Teitelbaum, Manatee County General Counsel.
 
Following the meeting, student protest co-organizer Mercury Clarke said she was feeling optimistic.
 
“The students will always win you know, this was a direct attack on us, this is our rights,” said Clarke.
 
For more information on how to get involved in the organizing efforts, visit here.
 
For upcoming public hearings and workshops with the Manatee County School District,
click here.
 
 

 

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