DCPS makes changes after students call for ‘You Matter Month’ to be renamed

Students rallied again at Sandalwood, as well as at First Coast High School, Fletcher High School, Andrew Jackson High School and others.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After Sandalwood High School students took to the hallways on Wednesday in protest of the district’s “You Matter Month” campaign, more demonstrations were held Friday on campuses across the district.

Students rallied again at Sandalwood, as well as at First Coast High School, Fletcher High School, Andrew Jackson High School and others.

The main target of all the demonstrations is the district’s “You Matter Month” campaign which they say takes away from Black History Month and, at the same time, high-jacks the “Black Lives Matter” phrasing.

After the protests the district said Friday evening it is discontinuing the use of the “you matter” language.

There was also continued heightened security at Duval campuses on Friday. Bag checks, metal detectors, fewer entry points and noticeable faculty involvement in the peaceful protests.

At Lee High School Principal Timothy Feagins walking side-by-side with students.

“We always want to make sure our students have a voice and we want to listen to them and make sure that they’re always heard,” Feagins said.

The students say they want the district to drop its “You Matter Month” campaign, which was aimed at spreading awareness of mental health issues, and focus more on Black history this month and throughout the school year.

“We want more Black history to be in the curriculum, we want it to be more important,” Sandalwood student Milka Fanord said.

Tilena Robinson and Erin Conklin are both part of the district’s African-American History Task Force.

“[The goal is] to ensure that school districts were following the mandate that requires the teaching of African and African-American history across all content areas, K through 12,” Robinson said.

In fact, DCPS is listed as one of only nine “exemplary districts” by Florida for how it provides Black history education.

Robinson said her independent research showed students did feel like they were getting enough exposure to Black history, but added that the recent demonstrations showed there is still work to do.

“This incident just indicates that, although we’ve made strides adhering to the requirements of the mandate, that we actually still have a number of things that we need to continue to do,” Robinson said.

“We definitely want students in there and we want to hear their voice and ways that we can improve,” Conklin added.

Students actually have the ability to apply online and become a member of the task force to help with its mission.

According to social media posts, there are more demonstrations planned for Monday and Tuesday in the school district some of them at DCPS headquarters.

The district said student protests are allowed on campus as long as they remain peaceful.

The district did issued a statement to the media announcing the changes Friday evening:

Today was a peaceful day across all of our high schools.

Students in six schools held peaceful demonstrations on the topic of Black History Month. Student leaders coordinated with school leaders to ensure these events were held in a manner which did not disrupt the school day for other students. In all cases, our students and student leaders demonstrated a high level of maturity and character in their effort to have their voices heard.

School and district leaders were present to help manage the events and to hear the voices of the students. Conversations and relationships with student leaders built over time help to keep these events civil and appropriate for the educational environment. Today was an example of how these events can be educational experiences in effective civil discourse.

Students are encouraged to continue the conversation at their schools with their school leaders on how we can continue to improve the work we do in Black History education. In addition, arrangements are being made for student leaders to have a dialogue with Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene later this month.

The district will work with students on more effective ways to make students aware of mental health resources and prevent teen suicide, while discontinuing the use of the “you matter” language.

Duval County Public Schools

About the Author:

McLean is a reporter with WJXT, covering education and breaking news. He is a frequent contributor to the News4Jax I-team and Trust Index coverage.