At what point does support for a student movement constitute indoctrination? Parents in Portland say the public schools there crossed the line during last year’s Parkland-inspired walkouts.
According to KATU-TV, Portland Public Schools is being sued by four parents who say that the schools used taxpayer resources to assist anti-gun students who took part in protests last year.
“It’s wrong for the schools to essentially hijack public resources to push one side of a controversial issue and to misuse children as puppets in their exercise,” James Buchal, the parents’ lawyer and the chair of the Multnomah County Republican Party, said.
According to KATU, Buchal also said that Portland Public Schools “used district resources to coordinate with outside activists, helped plan political activity, including walkouts, and claims the schools ‘indoctrinated’ students in the classroom.”
“It’s a giant scheme of manipulation and it’s not what people want their education dollars spent on,” he said.
“We think this lawsuit is baseless,” Harry Esteve, spokesman for Portland Public Schools, said. “There’s just no base for what he’s claiming. And the disappointing part about that is that we still have to spend a lot of time and district resources on it.”
However, Portland Public Schools openly supported the March 14, 2018, protest.
“The District’s position is that these are not protests, but organized school activities,” they said in a statement, according to Willamette Week.
“These are efforts to anticipate and safely manage the students who wish to show solidarity with students in Florida. The communications do not say that these are statements against gun violence. These are seen as teachable moments for 17 minutes during the school day, with an opportunity for discussion afterward.”
“In our role as union educators, we cannot legally encourage students to leave campus without permission,” a 2018 statement from the Portland Association of Teachers read.
“However, in preparing for March 14th, I am sure many of you are already planning to incorporate lessons from U.S. history that illustrate the power of civil disobedience and direct action — especially by young people — in creating lasting social change.”
Buchal’s lawsuit makes two claims.
The first is that the First Amendment rights of parents were violated by using tax dollars and resources in support of the protests without parental knowledge. The second is that “intimidation within the Portland schools also unconstitutionally interferes with the free speech rights of students.”
The lawsuit also claims that “those few students who express unpopular beliefs on gun control and other controversial issues — and even those who remain silent — have been subjected to severe bullying, intimidation and ostracism.”
The schools insist that 16,000 pages of documents they’ve turned over to Buchal show that they didn’t stifle the opinions of any students.
“What those documents demonstrate is the intentional and thoughtful planning that went into ensuring student safety and continued learning while also providing opportunities for students to express their views on a critical social issue and respecting their First Amendment rights,” Portland Public Schools told Willamette Week.
Their statement at the time — combined with the statement from the Portland Association of Teachers — certainly isn’t going to help, however.
Let’s face facts here: Phrases such as “teachable moments” and “lasting social change” usually aren’t thrown into the discussion about a fair, even-handed dialogue where the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms and the demonstrable positive effects of gun ownership on society are respected.
Instead, the statements sound like a prelude to a David Hogg-o-rama in which the debate could be summed up as, “Gun control: good idea or great idea?”
This isn’t what public schools are for, even in progressive utopias like Portlandia. The fact that this has ended in litigation is a clear sign that not every parent was on board with the Gun-Grab Express, even if one guesses the majority were.
Our public schools aren’t designed to take stances on political issues. Without knowing what went on in the classroom, one look at the statements from both the school district and the teacher’s union certainly makes it look like a taxpayer-funded institution was doing just that.
It’s worth noting that there was another walkout scheduled for this week, one regarding climate change. Like the Parkland walkouts, it was part of a larger movement. This time, Portland Public Schools says students participating would receive an unexcused absence.
It’s interesting to note how much the school’s tone has changed in a year, particularly as litigation looms.
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