Latina Lista: News from the Latinx perspective > Life Issues > Children > LA middle school students deprived of diplomas for 1 act of civil disobedience

LA middle school students deprived of diplomas for 1 act of civil disobedience

LatinaLista — Since the uprising in Iran, there has been global admiration for the students who are leading the revolt against Iran’s regime. The students’ civil disobedience and bravery to stand up for what they believe is right is admirable and illustrates that they have learned their lessons well when it comes to instigating change through peaceful protests.
That their protests have been met with retaliatory violence has given everyone cause to pause and reevaluate Iran’s role in global politics.

John H. Liechty Middle School, the site of a civil disobedience protest by 65 middle school students.
Yet, as bad as the retaliation has been, it’s something that was not entirely unexpected. After all, a country that calls its leader the “Supreme Leader” doesn’t leave too much doubt that democracy is a dream ideal.
Yet that’s not the case in the United States, or it shouldn’t be.
From the time US students get their first class in civics, they learn about democracy and they’re exposed to how to work within the system to create change.
US students are taught that civil disobedience is much more desirable than riots in the streets to instigate change or show their displeasure with a certain policy. And as long as they respect the property rights of others, student protesters should not have to suffer any retaliatory actions.
Try telling that to 65 graduating middle school students who practiced a very sedate form of civil disobedience and got their diplomas withheld from them by the school principal.

Liechty Middle School is part of the Los Angeles Unified School District. It serves students in 6th though 8th grades. The student body is 95 percent Latino.
“In 2008, John H. Liechty Middle School had 26 students for every full-time equivalent teacher. The California average is 21 students per full-time equivalent teacher.”
Maybe that’s one of the reasons why 65 students at the school decided they were going to show their support of their teachers in the wake of the school district’s planned cutbacks and layoffs by standing and turning their backs on Monica Garcia, the graduation speaker and LAUSD board president.
Needless to say, their actions did not go over very well with Principal Jeanette Stevens, who not only withheld the students’ diplomas, but is now reported to making students sign a letter of apology before they are allowed to receive their diplomas.
While the students’ actions could be construed as “bad manners,” it was clearly a protest to show that they stood in solidarity with their teachers.
In this new age where even the youngest child knows that he/she has rights, and students have taken the lead in organizing protests, whether it be Iran or the U.S., the actions of this principal send the wrong message to students who are practicing democracy.
Standing with their backs to the speaker is more desirable than having rocks thrown or insults shouted. To deny them their diplomas is denying them the basic right of every democratic society — regardless of their ages.
The mothers of the students who didn’t receive their diplomas had a press conference at the school yesterday where they demanded the principal apologize and issue the diplomas.
Unfortunately, the real issue at heart here has devolved now into a power struggle between the principal and the students.
Since there will be no winners in such a scenario, it would seem Ms. Garcia needs to make a return visit to the campus and do something that every democratic leader should endorse — sit down with both sides and come to a consensus.

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  • Dave Bennion
    June 23, 2009 at 9:28 pm

    it’s a culture of authority

  • cookie
    June 24, 2009 at 10:55 am

    I personally think that was rude. When someone is an invited speaker at any event their right to deliver their speeches should not be interrupted or disrespected. I am reminded of a couple incidences where some college students didn’t like the message or the messenger so they were disruptive and showed no respect for the speaker. One was a MM spokesman and another was Tom Tancredo.
    I think the proper way to protest or state a different point of view is to conduct one’s own platform from which to speak from and not in the vacinity of the speaker or message being protested against. It is about the right of freedom of speech for everyone while maintaining respect for another viewpoint.

  • El Guapo
    June 24, 2009 at 10:59 am

    “Just sit down and shut up,” is what I remember being told as a kid, and if you didn’t comply then they’d hammer you down. In this case they withheld diplomas to force them to comply.
    Maybe their actions were rude, but I think kids need a venue to express themselves. Rather than hammering them into submission, perhaps the principal could have used the incident to provide advice as to more appropriate means of expression.

  • Karen
    June 24, 2009 at 1:52 pm

    This stupid, lowest common denominator of a principal represents everything that is wrong with LA Unified. She sould be fired. It’s nice to see that these kids are engaged and aware. They expressed themselves peacefully.
    Withholding their eight grade graduation certiifcates will not prevent them from enrolling in high school–right?
    Call the Superintendent of LA Unified and complain:
    Tel: 213-241-7000

  • Alessandra
    June 25, 2009 at 10:34 am

    While I support the students’ right to express their opinions, I do question the appropriateness of the venue. I believe their actions were rude and inconsiderate not only to the speaker, but to others attending the ceremony who have a right to an unmarred graduation experience. The students would have been wiser to organize a rally in support of their teachers apart from the graduation ceremony.
    I don’t know that withholding diplomas was entirely appropriate either, but I don’t believe that the principal should apologize. We all have a right to our opinions and to express them, but we don’t have the right to express them wherever and whenever the mood strikes us without consequences. With rights also comes responsibility.

  • manuel
    October 28, 2009 at 10:52 am

    Cookie you are absurd. This is why I hate republicans. The minute I read this I was so proud of those kids.
    I mean middle schoolers standing up for their teachers? Amazing. And they should have organized a rally or their own platform to speak?? Their 8th graders! They also did not interrupt the ceremony whatsoever.
    The gall of that principle to turn her back on her students in favor of kissing up to her superiors is appaling and to acknowledge this as anything else but brilliant is a real tradgedy.

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