KIRKWOOD • Hundreds of students at schools across the St. Louis region held their own peaceful protests Monday on the racism they saw in the Jason Stockley not-guilty verdict — with varying levels of support from school administrators.
More than 110 students walked out of Kirkwood High School; more than 250 students walked out of Webster Groves High School and Hixson Middle School. Students also held a protest at University City High School, in the same district that saw protests and some vandalism Saturday night.
Administrators at some schools, including University City, embraced the demonstrations. University City Superintendent Sharonica Hardin-Bartley, who is African-American, and high school Principal Susan Hill helped students organize their protest march, which was attended by more than 300 students, staff and community members. They let students return to class without any mark on their disciplinary records.
“We really wanted it to be a teachable moment. I do think there is value in having organized protest and having a voice,” Hardin-Bartley said. “We’re saddened by what we see happening in our community and beyond, and I believe that our children are our leaders. We can’t expect for them to lead if we don’t give them the opportunity to do so.”
But Kirkwood High School said it will give unexcused absences to students who walked out, per school policy. The school had warned parents over the weekend of the consequences of walking out.
Webster Groves also gave its students unexcused absences, a district spokeswoman said.
The Hazelwood School District had also made clear Friday that any students who walked out would be disciplined, saying it would be disruptive and that student safety could not be guaranteed during a walkout.
“While the Hazelwood School District respects students’ voices and their First Amendment rights, we cannot condone disruptive behavior, protests, violence and/or walkouts during the school day,” said Hazelwood Superintendent Nettie Collins-Hart in a statement Friday on Facebook.
At Kirkwood, members of the school’s Social Justice Club organized the walkout not just to protest the Stockley verdict, but to protest racial inequities they see at their own school and in the community surrounding it. Students marched to the bleachers of the football field and listened to student speakers before returning to class after about an hour.
“No justice, no peace! Let’s stand together!” the students chanted as they walked back to class.
Sha’diya Tomlin, 17, is a senior who helped organize the Kirkwood walkout. She said the racial inequities of her school were evident when, after news of the Stockley verdict broke, she felt there were no staff members who could empathize with heras a black student. Kirkwood High has only three black teachers and one black assistant principal.
The Kirkwood School District has acknowledged racial inequities and achievement gaps within its schools — which are well-documented in schools nationwide — and has a task force dedicated to mitigating them.
“We didn’t get any empathy, we didn’t get anything to acknowledge the pain that we were going through as black students,” said Sha’diya, an honors student. “Who’s really going to empathize with the way we feel in our community?”
Students who walked out pointed out other signs of racial inequity at their school, such as few black students in Advanced Placement classes, only one black student at a recent National Honors Society induction ceremony, and few black students leading student organizations. They also referenced what many have called a racist incident last October when a Kirkwood High student was accused of wearing blackface.
Devin Corley, a 14-year-old freshman who walked out, said he thinks Kirkwood’s unexcused absence policy is “disrespectful.” He said it punishes students for standing up for their beliefs.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that members of Kirkwood High's Social Justice Club organized the walkout, but it was not an official club activity. It has also been updated to reflect that Webster Groves students were given unexcused absences.