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Black students at North Thurston press for their right to a safe school environment

For five days, from January 31 to February 4, 2022, students from River Ridge and North Thurston High Schools carried out a multi-faceted protest to call attention to the failure by North Thurston administrators and others in leadership roles to address continuing incidents of racism in their schools. A list of some of the most recent incidents was compiled by a community member and can be found on pages 8-9 of this issue.

Members of the Black Student Union of North Thurston have drafted a letter to the administration outlining the kinds of actions and changes that are required for students of color to learn in the safe and supportive environment that is the right of all school students.

Christie Tran, a visual arts teacher at River Ridge and advisor to the Black Student Union said, “This is a systemic issue that needs to be addressed at North Thurston Public Schools and in Lacey. We are seeking a broader impact on addressing racism in our district and in our city.”

(So far, officials at North Thurston School District have responded by banning student protests on campus. They also said they plan to finalize a plan “to provide students, staff and families with a safe space to have their concerns heard…”)BW

Letter from the Black Student Union To NTEA, Jan 28, 2022

We are the Black Student Union of North Thurston Public Schools. Our BSU advocates for the collective interest and rights of Black students, and by extension the rights of all students participating in the institution of public education. We are writing to you not only on behalf of our BSU members, but also in an effort to protect the rights of students who have been targets of sexual violence in our schools, including female-identifying, transgender, and non-binary students. We are uniting in a collective effort to ensure that students’s rights are protected, regardless of sex, gender presentation, or sexuality, and that all students have access to a safe and inclusive school environment free from sexual violence, racism, harassment, intimidation, and bullying.

Students from a variety of backgrounds and identities are reporting multiple experiences of discrimination and injustice when reporting incidents of racism and sexual harrassment. This is not acceptable. We must act in our own best interests to secure our rights under Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination in public schools because of race, color, or national origin. Public schools include elementary schools, secondary schools, public colleges, and universities. We must act to hold institutions of public education accountable to the Title IX Constitutional Amendment of 1972 that prohibits sex discrimination (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, and gender identity) in any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.

Our previous attempts to work “within the system” have resulted in re-traumatization, gaslighting, and repeated instances of our concerns being dismissed or minimized. Despite attempts to follow outlined procedures and make reports to the powers that be, we have not been protected from racial abuse and sexual trauma inflicted on us by peers and even staff. Administrators and district officials have proven unable to provide us with a safe learning environment. Because of these shortcomings, it is now our responsibility to cultivate change and secure justice for ourselves.

We must act as a collective body to ensure that our most vulnerable populations are safe from harm at schools. The dehumanization of students will continue to occur, as well as systemic racism and rape culture, if we do not unite for change. The North Thurston Education Association ensures that the rights of teachers in our district are protected—in this same spirit of collective strength, we ask that you support students as we fight for our rights. We want our schools and the district to do better so that we don’t have to endure suffering just to receive an education. We ask that you stand with us in solidarity by modifying assignments, assessments, and deadlines (particularly for finals); that you join us in our strike during your lunch and planning periods; and that you take your classes out to witness young people engaging in their civic duties in active citizenship.

We have been intimidated, coerced, and forced to abide by demands dictated to us by administrators against our own self-interest. There is an imbalance of power when it comes to reporting traumatic experiences that needs to be amended. When we are forced to be silent and to bear the burden of being harmed through race-based and gender-based violence, we internalize feelings of anger, sadness, and confusion. This negatively impacts our attendance, motivation, academic outcomes, mental health, and more. When students come to school, they need to feel safe and secure enough to communicate with our mandated reporters about the traumatic experiences students go through. So, as educators and student advocates, please consider this trauma we are experiencing, in addition to the strain put on us from the COVID pandemic with buses that don’t show up, substitutes in multiple classes, and our own absences due to quarantine and/or mental health circumstances.

This is a student strike (long-term, disruption of schooling) and not a one-day walk out. We demand that our schools agree to the following Short-Term Achievable Goals that can begin to build trust and healing before we return to schooling:

  • Students participating in the strike must receive accommodations and/or modifications to make up work missed in their classes so they are not penalized for exercising their constitutional rights to demonstrate.
  • Students participating in the strike will not be retaliated against with disproportionately harsh disciplinary action.
  • Agree to negotiation/planning with BSU students and students who have experienced sexual trauma at schools and stakeholders to plan a stop to “business as usual” schooling for 1-2 weeks during the month of February to address major student concerns at our schools. Students are not just learning Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetics. There is a 4th R and a 5th R that are silent. NTPS needs to make a commitment to end Racism and Rape culture in schooling. We demand that a commitment is made to dedicate space, money, time (1-2 weeks in February 2022 and then regularly and effectively throughout the year with accountability measures), and effort so that all students, staff, and stakeholders can address these community issues so that we can collaborate on community solutions. Outside professional organizations specializing in these issues should be hired with the consent of students. Stakeholders engaging in the process should be compensated (school credit, volunteer hours, a stipend, etc.) if this is not part of curriculum and made to be extracurricular.
  • Policies are changed in the students’ rights and responsibilities handbook that any student whether they are the ones doing the harm or the ones receiving the harm entering into a disciplinary meeting with a school administrator must be accompanied by a student advocate/trusted adult that will balance the power differential by supporting the student and their needs.
  • Create positions for student advocates at all schools for the protection of students. Long-Term Goals:
  • A full investigation conducted by the Washington State Department of Justice of the current and historical issues and management of incidents of racism and sexual harassment.
  • Accountability measures for racial equity, LGBTQIA+, and social justice training for all staff.
  • Consequences up to termination for staff that violate student constitutional rights.

To Be Continued:

We are not done with goal setting yet. More will come.

In Solidarity,

NTPS BSU members and students who have been impacted by sexual violence

  • Racist Incident at a Basketball Game On January 14th, Capital High School students were captured on video yelling out racist taunts at a Black player from River Ridge High School, the video quickly went viral. This incident has exacerbated ongoing student experiences of racism in local schools
  • Student Mobilization On January 24th Capital High School students held a walk-out and issued demands to address racism in local schools. Starting on January 31st, North Thurston School District students have organized and held daily rallies, student strikes and have issued demands in response to this racist incident and others. Students have linked the issues of racism, rape culture and hate crime as interlinked threats to school safety;
  • WIAA Investigation The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association is investigating the January 14th incident, which is very similar to several other recent incidents across the state. WIAA has the jurisdiction to penalize schools for bad behavior at public school sporting events in our state
  • Media Attention These student rallies and walk-outs have been picked up by regional TV including KOMO, King 5, KIRO, Fox 13; newspapers including the Olympian and the News Tribune; online news sources including Newsbreak and My Northwest; and nationally by Newsweek Magazine. This media has inspired support for the students and but has also stirred up detractors
  • Unity Meeting with Capital High School Unity met with Capital High School Principal Rosmaire Burke, Vice Principal Jawanne Brown and Olympia High School Principal Matt Grant to learn of their responses to students and their families harmed by this and related incidents and offer to suggestions and assistance for ongoing responses to racism in schools
  • North Thurston (NT) Administrators discouraged the strike. Initial NT District student demands have allegedly been put off by administrators—students were asked to wait until Black History Month to address their concerns
  • NT Students face potential disciplinary actions. Allegedly, the NT administration and individual teachers have threatened discliplinary action against student activists
  • NT Teachers face potential disciplinary actions: Allegedly, teachers have been told by the NT administration to stay away from the student actions at risk of disciplinary actions. One teacher-adviser told me they were worried they would get fired for supporting the BSU
  • NT Student Movement is Growing and Maturing After a first day that involved some activist disagreements on strategy and a few loud F-bombs, student leaders have found a way to bring together the issues of racism, hate crime and rape culture into a movement for Safe Schools
  • Potential for Backlash As this student movement continues to grow, so does the potential for backlash. These issues are precisely the issues at the core of the growing national divide and our region has been afflicted by white supremacist activity


The photo on this page was taken by a member of the community during a day-long strike at River Ridge High School in February 2022.

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