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What one GRPS Principal said to students during the National Walkout in support of Parkland Students

March 26, 2018

On March 14, hundreds of thousands of students participated in the National Walkout in support of the Students from Parkland and Against gun violence in schools

Like the rest of the country, the Grand Rapids Public Schools students participated in the walkout.

GRPS Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal said they are using the event as a teachable moment focused on school safety and the district’s’ “See It, Say It, Do Something About It-Stop School Violence” theme.

Shortly after the GRPD Superintendent release a statement on what they intended to do, several GRPS students wrote how what the GRPS administration was doing was a hinderance to students. The student response reads in part:

The problems with the district’s endorsement of the walkout are most evident in the letter sent home about the event. The letter contained a short statement of support for the walkout, a rigid plan for each grade level laying out what the students would and would not be allowed to do as part of the demonstration, and a permission slip to be signed by each student’s parent or guardian before they could participate in the action.

Some of those in leadership positions within the GRPS went a step further on the day of the student walkout, which we were alerted to recently by a parent who wishes to remain anonymous. Here is video of what the Principal at North Park Montessori, Robin Sorge, said to the students at that school:

What the Principal at North Park Montessori read to the students on March, was from a posting on a right wing blog site, called Common Sense Evaluation. 

The parent who found the statement read by the principal, sent her the following message:

I’m really disappointed in the way you handled the walkout assembly today. My children and husband were also very disappointed. The boys wanted to write a letter to you themselves, but they are too scared to send it because they think they’ll be in trouble if they tell you.

You did not honor children’s voices at all when you dictated the agenda today.

You did not share the microphone so the children could be heard. You held it the entire time.

The letter you read originated from a tea-party website filled with anti-lgbtq messages, conspiracy-theories, anti-immigration sentiments, nationalist rhetoric and pro-NRA messages. 

The site even included multiple theories that the Parkland School students were crisis actors, and were hired to promote anti-second amendment messaging.

My husband and I are teaching our children that their voices matter and that they have a right to protest and be heard. We chose Montessori because of the principles of listening to the child, following them and supporting them in their work of becoming engaged members of society. 

This assembly did none of those things.  

We also wanted to know what you will do with the answers you wrote. Will you share them with any decision-makers at the school? Will anything change to make the children feel safer? 

We all appreciated that you wanted us to be nice to each other, but that letter you read, promoting this, also implied that the children in Sandy Hook or Parkland perhaps weren’t nice enough, and that’s why the shooter came in. That being nice will stop bullets. And also that their protests, their raised voices begging to heard, were useless.

I understand why you did what you did from the perspective of someone who wants to control the narrative and maybe protect small children’s ears, but it was very poorly handled. 

My kids wanted to walk out of school today with the rest of the nation’s participating children after hearing about honoring the children who were hurt in their school. But they also wanted to hear what you said first in the gym, they respect you. Perhaps consider respecting them next time by letting them have a say in setting the agenda and allowing them to exercise their rights. 

You should strongly consider issuing an apology to your students. They were not truly honored today. 

I’d also very much appreciate a response as to why you thought it was acceptable to read that dismissive, patronizing and pro-NRA letter in front of the entire school. 

In many ways, the letter that was read from the conservative blog, is very much in line with the viral campaign WalkUpNotOut. This counter-campaign is not only ridiculous, it completely puts the focus on student behavior instead of those coming into schools with guns and shooting people.

What we all learned from the past few weeks, especially from the speeches that students gave on Saturday, it that they know what their lived experience is and that we need to listen to them. Hell, we need to get out of their way and let them determine what they want for themselves.

Incidents, like what happened at North Park Montessori is a clear example of what adults should NOT being doing. If you want to communicate with the Principal from North Park Montessori, Robin Sorge, her e-mail is SorgeR@grps.org. In addition, it might be a good idea to communicate with School Superintendent Neal about this incident. She can be reached at nealt@grps.org.

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