The Tukwila School District administrators finally announced the results of their disciplinary investigations against the Tukwila six teachers who allowed or supported the Nov. 16th walkout of 125 students against the Iraq war and military recruitment at Foster High School. They gave a Letter of Reprimand to teacher Brett Rogers and a Directive Letter to teacher Kjell Rowe.

Brett Rogers was given a Letter of Reprimand because he walked out of classes with his students to protest the war and military recruitment of schools. Although he thought he might lose his job, he felt it was necessary to take a stand against the U.S. corporate war for oil, money and power that has cost the lives of an estimated 1 million Iraqis, 3800 U.S. soldiers and over $500 billion, particularly because his own brother was about to be shipped off to Iraq.

Kjell Rowe was given a Directive Letter that he should not have given students a ride to the student rally. Apparently, there is a policy that no teachers are allowed to give students a ride anywhere without written permission from the principal. However, most students and staff have never heard of this rule, and if it is a rule, this is probably one of the first times it’s ever been applied.

But the fact that no teachers were fired is a tremendous VICTORY for the Foster teachers, students, and for all of us! The administration wanted to send students and teachers the message that if you speak out against school or local government leaders (who are doing nothing to stop the war or military recruitment in schools), somebody will get hurt. The Foster principal initiated a political witch-hunt against teachers, but a powerful groundswell of support from students and community members broke his effort. These disciplinary letters are bad, but they are a slap on the wrist compared to the danger these teachers faced of losing their jobs, income, and security!

This is proof that there is power when ordinary people get organized, and that we can make a difference in challenging this unjust war in Iraq and military recruitment in schools!!!

Thanks to ALL who demonstrated their solidarity by calling, emailing, and protesting the Tukwila School District!!!

BUT…the campaign is not done.

The letters given to Mr. Rogers and Ms. Rowe will go in their permanent files, unless the teachers’ challenges against the disciplinary letters are accepted. We must also remember that two of the six teachers are in their probationary period, meaning that it is still somewhat in doubt whether the school district will rehire them next semester and next year. Solidarity has made this impossible so far, but please STAY TUNED to make sure that the Tukwila Six stay in the classroom next semester and next year.

Also, the school district suspended student activist Bailey Davidson on the spurious grounds that she had an Ipod out in a substitute-led class that had no lesson plan. Although other students had Ipods out, Assistant Principal Darrel Wright picked out Bailey to suspend for nine days for questioning why she was being singled out. She was clearly targeted because she was helping Foster Student Action collect approximately 200 student signatures the day before to defend their teachers’ jobs. Furthermore, when students tried to meet after school to peacefully assemble and organize, Principal Ilgenfritz had the meeting broken up by EIGHT POLICEMEN! Your continued solidarity can ensure that Foster students can exercise their freedom of expression!

Lessons of the Tukwila Six campaign

  1. Working-class students are capable of organizing resistance to military recruiters and the war
  2. A teacher responsible accompanied his students in the walkout and, although the administration clearly aimed to fire him, solidarity from students and the community clearly prevented this
  3. School administrations may over-react to student and teachers’ participation in civil disobedience, which can turn political expression into a fight for free speech
  4. If those in authority instigate a political witch-hunt, challenging it through the authorities’ appeals process will probably not be enough. A political fight-back may be necessary
  5. By fighting back as broadly as possible and soliciting mainstream and alternative media, the struggle can inform and inspire people across the country
  6. Teachers (and other workers who are union members) should push their leadership to take public stands on issues that affect us as workers

Next Steps
Students are filing an official appeal to have Bailey’s suspension overturned or at least erased from her record. Students are also preparing to set up information tables and collect petition signatures right next to military recruiters whenever they show up to organize students and staff behind their goal of making schools off-limits to military recruiters. This will attract more students to get involved in Foster Student Action, and they will maintain a consistent presence in the school which will make it harder for administrators not to rehire the teachers next semester or next year.

We need to build on this inspiring victory and organize more student walkouts, protests, and teach-ins against the war and organize more students to set up antiwar clubs in their school to make their schools no-go zones for military recruiters.

If you want to:

  • Help Foster Student Action
  • Organize a Youth Against War and Racism group in your school to counter military recruiters or drive them out of your school
  • Arrange for a Youth Against War and Racism speaker to come to your school to do an antiwar teach-in
  • Help the Tukwila Teachers and Students Solidarity Committee
  • Mobilize people to the next large antiwar protest on the 5th Anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, or
  • Find out more about and get involved with Socialist Alternative

then please go to our various groups’ websites and contact us!

Foster Student Action:
For more info/Youth Against War and Racism: (206) 931-8537
Tukwila Teachers and Students Solidarity Committee: (253) 573-9252
For more info/Socialist Alternative: (206) 841-5566

Students and Community Demand Accountability at December 11th Tukwila School Board Meeting
What Was Achieved

From the Tukwila Teachers and Students Solidarity Committee
By Nathan Bowling and Ramy Khalil
December 18, 2007

On December 11th, for the second time in two weeks, approximately 100 students and community members attended the meeting of the school board in Tukwila, Washington to support the democratic free speech rights of the staff and students from Foster High School.

At a previous school board meeting, in front of both local and national (TV, print, and radio) media, the school board tried to ignore the presence of approximately one-hundred sign-toting students and antiwar activists. The meeting this week began with a similar tone. However, this time the district placed a school employee — who was clearly hostile to the demonstrators and stated at the previous meeting that the “teachers should be fired” — at the door to enforce the fire code and limit the number of people in the hearing room. Police locked peaceful community members out of the meeting and the building. So community members started chanting chants like “let the teachers teach!” Then police threatened to arrest them for chanting—once again violating people’s Constitutional right to free speech.

The school board meeting agenda called for a Work Study Session entitled “political expression and the public schools: rights responsibilities of students, staff, and schools boards.” This was perceived as a public hearing period, but the district instead tried to limit the discussion to their district lawyers and several previously selected and approved students. After students and community members persistently complained that only a select group were being allowed to speak, Foster Student Action, a recently formed group of student activists from Foster, eventually were given an opportunity to speak, and they articulately and passionately laid out a case of harassment, intimidation, and inequitable application of school policies and rules.

Foster High School is overwhelmingly comprised of working-class students: 71% of students qualify for the federal Free/ Reduced Lunch program, and approximately 30% speak English as a second language. Most seniors are not passing the WASL state exam and therefore may not be allowed to graduate. The school board and Foster administration had grown accustomed to students and teachers following their orders, even though the district is underserving the students and failing to equip them for their futures. This was the first time the students as an organized group stood up for something they believed in, and the administration simply did not expect the students to defend some of their best teachers’ jobs in such an organized, determined way.

In the aftermath of the student presentations, the school board attempted to punt on many of the students’ concerns, stating that these items were “beyond their jurisdiction” and up to the building administrator (who was in the room, yet largely silent). Community members then largely spoke in support of the Foster students and against the policies of the administration.

It helped the students and teachers enormously to have the assistance of parents, local community members, Neighbors for Peace, the head of the local NAACP, the Tukwila Teachers and Students Solidarity Committee, Socialist Alternative, and Youth Against War and Racism. All parties present agreed the school board had largely failed the students of Foster High School. The students’ testimony showed the school district leaders are not providing these students the education they deserve, and they are running an overly repressive school environment and should change their ways.

What Was Achieved
Students and community members exposed the administrators’ hollow arguments and tactics and put an immense amount of pressure on administrators not to discipline students and teachers. After 2 hours of intense debate, though, the school board still refused to agree to the students’ demands to:

  1. drop the investigations against teachers,
  2. overturn the suspension of the student activist, and
  3. ban military recruiters from Foster High School.

It is quite possible, however, that administrators will be afraid not to rehire the teachers after their probationary period is completed next semester or next year, which has been the students’ main demand. After school administrators faced large angry crowds at school board meetings, bad media publicity, and the flooding of their phone lines and email inboxes (to the point where the Superintendent had to remove her email address from the school district’s website), they will certainly think twice about whether they want to face a new round of protests before they consider not re-hiring the teachers next semester or next year. So the students could still achieve their main demand, which would be a significant victory.

The other major achievement out of this whole struggle was the heightened political consciousness and activism of teachers, students, workers, and unions. News of the struggle was broadcasted through corporate and independent media outlets locally and across the country. The Seattle teachers union (the Seattle Education Association) and the United Teachers of Los Angeles (the 2nd largest teachers union in the country) adopted resolutions supporting students and pledging to defend the teachers if they are not rehired. Activists in the largest teachers union in the country in New York City and other antiwar and labor groups are also working to line up more support.

Most importantly, everyone involved witnessed the stiff opposition from those in power at the national and local levels of government who are allowing this unpopular war for oil and power and military recruitment in schools to continue. People can see more clearly now the kind of ardent determination and mass movement of students, workers, and soldiers that needs to be organized to end these policies that benefit the US corporate elite at the expense of most ordinary Iraqis and Americans.

Please be ready to defend the teachers if they are not re-hired next semester or next year. Thanks for your support and solidarity!

Union resolutions in support of Tukwila teachers and students

United Teachers Los Angeles
Motion to Support Tukwila Teachers
Passed by the Board of Directors
2nd largest teachers union local in U.S.

December 5, 2007

Moved, that UTLA expresses it support for the six Tukwila teachers who face disciplinary action following a student walkout against military recruitment and urge a quick and just resolution of the proceedings against them.

Further moved, that the UTLA president will write the Tukwila Education Association a letter expressing our support, and offering assistance as needed.

Rationale: On November 16, over 1000 students in Washington state walked out of classes to protest the war in Iraq and the presence of military recruiters in schools. 150 students at Foster High School in Tukwila walked out as well. Now, six teachers are facing disciplinary action for their actions. As part of the notice teachers are threatened with dismissal if they discuss it with the public. This is clearly a violation of their rights.

Seattle Education Association
Largest teachers’ local in Washington State

Here’s the motion that passed our Seattle Education Association Representative Assembly. One vote Against passage; about 100 For!

December 17, 2007

WHEREAS the Seattle Education Association Representative Assembly is very concerned about the academic freedom and professional future of six fellow educators in the Tukwila School District and the students involved in the November 16th, 2007 anti-war walkout and protest of military recruiting on campus; and

WHEREAS 71 percent of the students of the Tukwila School District is eligible for free and reduced lunch, and military recruiters visit Foster High School frequently at lunch, be it

RESOLVED that the Seattle Education Association Representative Assembly expresses its solidarity with the six Tukwila teachers and with any and all affected students in any ongoing or related disciplinary proceedings, and commits to support the quick and just resolution of said proceedings.

Extensive Media Coverage of the Campaign

Note that by effectively soliciting mainstream and alternative media, hundreds of thousands of people across the country and world are aware of the resistance to militarism by students from the tiny one-high-school town of Tukwila Washington. If the students of Foster High School can resist…why can’t you?

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