NORMANDY • More than 150 Normandy Middle School seventh-graders skipped lunch period Thursday to rally for their troubled school district in a mile-long march down Natural Bridge Road.
They wanted to deliver a message to save their troubled school district, which is close to broke from expenses associated with the school transfer law and could be reorganized this summer by the state.
“Hear our voice!” the students chanted again and again, as they held up hand-printed signs and moved toward Lucas and Hunt Road, past the Murchison Tabernacle C.M.E. Church, chop suey restaurants and beauty salons.
“Save our school!” and “Normandy strong!” others yelled.
The pupils organized the march in history class while studying social activism and the role children played during the civil rights movement.
They were most inspired by the Children’s Crusade in Birmingham, Ala., when students marched against segregation, braving fire hoses and police dogs.
“Student voices have the ability to do more than adult voices,” history teacher Greg Lemmon said. So seventh-graders started making signs, hoping to make a difference.
“Just sitting back isn’t going to change anything,” said Makayla Jones, surrounded by classmates.
“We want the district to go on,” said Orlondo Williams.
As the pupils marched east, Lloyd Hughes, a parent who sent five children through the Normandy School District, watched from a patch of grass.
“It’s wonderful,” he said. “It’s a teaching moment for them to stand up for what is right.”
The unaccredited north St. Louis County district had the worst performance in the state last year, as measured by the state. The school transfer law upheld by the state Supreme Court led to about 2,200 students transferring from Normandy and the unaccredited Riverview Gardens district to higher performing schools, with the districts paying the costs of tuition and transportation.
Many of the 3,000 students still in Normandy schools say there is good reason to keep the district alive. Outside Normandy School District offices at Lucas and Hunt Road, seventh-grader Jerell McKinney revved up his classmates by delivering a speech into a bullhorn.
“We’re not just the seventh grade,” he said. “We are not just Normandy Middle School. We are the Normandy School District. We will stand until the state knocks us down!”
The state education department has named a transition task force to help determine the future organization and governance of the Normandy district, in the likely event it runs out of money this summer. Normandy pupils on Thursday said they want their schools left alone.
Superintendent Ty McNichols made no reference to potential changes that may take shape after the school year ends. He told the seventh-graders that he was proud of their efforts.
“Civil rights, change, started with students,” he said. “What you’re doing, you’re standing up and you’re representing the fight that has to continue for the children of Normandy.”