Students protest, call for more Black history in Duval County schools

Some Duval County students used their day off Monday to protest outside the school district’s headquarters on the Southbank.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Some Duval County students used their day off Monday to protest outside the school district’s headquarters on the Southbank. The protest is continued to fall out from You Matter Month, a campaign aimed at raising awareness for mental health.

The district ended the campaign after protests at six public schools Friday. Students still held a demonstration at the district headquarters at 1 p.m.

Dozens of students and other activists gathered outside the main office of Duval County Public Schools Monday afternoon calling for more emphasis on Black history in schools and more input from Black students.

The demonstrations started last week when students denounced the timing of the You Matter campaign as it coincided with Black History Month and hijacked Blacks Lives Matter phrasing. Students said additionally, little emphasis has been put on sharing the history of the Black experience in the school curriculum.

Organizers on Monday said they want to fix an underlying problem.

“Even though “You Matter Month” was suspended, we are here to make sure that Black history as well as Black voices are made a priority, as well as to give students a seat at the table when deciding big initiatives like this, especially when making sure that they relaunch a wellness or mental wellness campaign,” said Lee High School Senior Class President Deyona Burton.

District leaders pointed to a special designation for its Black history curriculum but said in light of recent demonstrations, there are ways the district can improve.

Duval County Public High Schools has an African-American history “Exemplary School District” designation. It’s one of only 9 districts in the state with the status.

The designation is awarded to schools that have an African American history initiative, structured professional development, African American studies curriculum, structured teaching of the African American History curriculum, university-school district collaboration, and parent/community partnerships.

DCPS earned the designation in the 2017-2018 school year and is in the process of reapplying to maintain the designation.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, students have the right to freedom of speech at school and can protest if it is peaceful and follows the school rules.

If a rule is broken, a student can be disciplined. The Duval County school district says peaceful protests are allowed in school.

Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene issued a statement about the recent events on Monday.

“The events of the last few days, while sparked by the mental health campaign, have revealed opportunities to improve the educational experience for you and your peers,” Greene wrote.

Read the full statement below:

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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.