JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In an email to Sandalwood High School personnel Wednesday night, Principal Saryn Hatcher addressed the student-organized, mass walkout that occurred hours earlier.
“I wanted you to hear from me about some unrest we faced recently as a school family, and steps I’d like to take to bring our school community together,” Hatcher’s email said. “Today, a group of students staged a walkout. The event was largely peaceful, but did cause a disruption to the school.”
Students told News4Jax on Thursday the demonstration was a success.
It got them a meeting with leaders from Sandalwood, regional superintendents and district superintendent Diana Greene.
“We had a discussion about everything that went on. What are the next steps moving forward? And they did say that they’re proud of us, and they understand this and they hear us but we’re just hoping for more action,” said one of the organizers of the walk-out, Jara Enoch. “I think, actually, a lot of progress was made. I feel like the cycle will just continue and we’ll keep progressing and taking steps up from here.”
Student organizers told News4Jax that the unrest began after Hatcher posted on the school’s digital discussion board about the DCPS mental health awareness campaign, “You Matter Month,” which 12th-grader Enoch criticized for pulling away attention from Black History Month and drawing a connection to the Black Lives Matter movement.
“They talked about, really their message was, ‘Black History Matters,’ and therefore the situation when it comes to mental health awareness month ‘You Matter’ got a little confused,” Hatcher said.
Student organizers said Thursday they want the school and the district to place more emphasis on Black History Month and integrate more Black history into the curriculum.
“That’s pretty much what we’re fighting for. We want more Black history to be in the curriculum, we want it to be more important,” student Milka Fanord said.
But DCPS doesn’t seem to be ignoring Black history.
The Florida Department of Education’s African-American history task force actually lists DCPS as “exemplary,” one of only nine districts in Florida to have that special designation. It means the district was able to prove that African-American history is taught in all K-12 content areas.
Some Sandalwood students say it’s not enough.
Principal Hatcher said he’s meeting with the student organizers again on Friday.
Students said there are more demonstrations to come at Sandalwood and at other schools in Jacksonville.
According to DCPS spokesperson Tracy Pierce, the demonstration Thursday did not involve any physical violence or property destruction. Extra law enforcement personnel were called to the campus only to ensure its security and ‘orderly dismissal.’
On Wednesday night, several DCPS high schools notified parents that the buildings would undergo “enhanced security measures” for the rest of the week.
Hatcher indicated that the conversation surrounding the demonstration and what prompted it will continue.
“We will continue to have increased police presence for the remainder of the week, but my priority as a leader of this school community is to initiate frank conversations with students and staff about civic discussion,” the email said. “The protest was the culmination of heated debate, at first about the school district’s new campaign for suicide prevention awareness, but quickly became about other sensitive topics such as race and equity.”
Videos of the demonstration showed students chanting, “Black Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter...,” and impromptu speeches from organizers criticized the school’s lack of messaging about Black History Month. Students also expressed frustration over racially insensitive comments on the digital discussion board thread.
“These are the kind of conversations that should take place in schools and classrooms, and it is my hope that Saint Nation can model how to express and hear diverse viewpoints in a constructive and peaceful manner,” the email said.
Administrators are working with district representatives to craft “learning opportunities” for the school community, more details of which will be released when they’re finalized, according to Hatcher’s email.