A discussion about race and the Confederate flag will be held for Free State High School students Wednesday morning.
A Free State student had been displaying the Confederate flag from a makeshift flagpole on his truck that he parked on campus. After about a week of the display, school administration disallowed the student from bringing the flag on school grounds. District officials have said that decision was based on the fact that the flag was disrupting the learning environment (as opposed to the flag in itself).
Four Free State students have started a petition to ban the flag districtwide, which is currently circulating at both high schools. Late last week, the petition had about 200 signatures, but I haven’t heard an updated count yet this week. Any change to district policy would have to be discussed and voted on by the Lawrence school board in a public meeting. The four students have plans to add the petition for a districtwide ban to an upcoming meeting. The next meeting is Feb. 8, but the agenda hasn’t yet been set.
The discussion is being hosted by the school’s Can We Talk Club, which focuses on issues of race. The group meets every other Wednesday, and this week’s regularly scheduled meeting will be used to discuss the issue with the Confederate flag and will also include a few guests, according to Free State Principal Myron Graber.
“We have invited in a couple of guest speakers to join in on the conversation,” Graber said via email. “The group always tries to focus on relevant issues that happen daily around the school. The flag issues occurred at this time. As we have stated, we try to take situations and turn them into a learning process.”
The Journal-World was able to confirm that Nadia Imafidon, who is a Free State graduate and an employee of The World Company, will be one of the guest speakers. Other guest speakers weren’t confirmed as of Monday evening.
The events have generated lots of public conversation, both on social media and Journal-World forums, but district officials said the discussion on Wednesday would be particularly for Free State students to have an open conversation on the topic. Because the club’s discussions are meant to be a “safe space” where all students can voice their thoughts, Wednesday’s meeting is open only to Free State students (as opposed to the public), according to district spokeswoman Julie Boyle.
The Can We Talk club began at Lawrence High School in 2009, according to the district’s website. Four local African-American men — Willie Amison, Craig Butler, Ed Brunt and Bud Stallworth — began volunteering with LHS with the goal of helping to eliminate barriers to student achievement by providing adult mentors for students of color. The club has since expanded not only to Free State, but to the district’s middle schools as well. In 2010, the school board presented Outstanding Citizen Awards to the program's founders.
Wednesdays are late-arrival days for high school students in the district, and the discussion will take place before school begins, from 8 to 9 a.m.
Apparently there has been some amount of grumbling among parents and others about the fact that the Lawrence school district is holding high schol graduation ceremonies in the middle of the week this year.
For some people, that may cause problems, especially for parents who typically work evening shifts, and those who want to invite all the aunts and uncles and grandparents to travel from out of town so they can take part in a family celebration.
Double that for families that have students in both Lawrence and Free State high schools,
But the decision to hold this year's ceremonies on Tuesday and Wednesday - as opposed to back-to-back ceremonies on either a Saturday or Sunday - was actually made more than a year ago. And school district officials say it came in response to a multitude of other problems that arose from all the other alternatives.
It seems to be another case that shows how negotiating school district calendars is sometimes only slightly less complicated than negotiating peace in the Middle East.
In years past, the schools used to have back-to-back ceremonies at Memorial Stadium. But that changed a few years ago when the high schools got their own football stadiums. Since then, they've held separate graduations on their own "home turf," so to speak. That pretty much requires holding them on separate days.
The Lawrence school board actually made the decision about this year's dates more than a year ago, at its April 9, 2012, meeting, after hearing a report from Free State principal Ed West and Lawrence High principal Matt Brungardt.
The decision was reported in the Journal-World the following day.
"The high schools have been challenged in the past to schedule a date for graduation that avoids conflicts with Kansas University," the principals said in a memo to the board. "The school administrators also feel strongly that graduation should closely follow the last day of classes for seniors."
So the two schools formed a committee to explore all the options and make a recommendation to the school board. Basically, it boiled down to this:
The last day for seniors was Thursday, May 16. KU's graduation was set for the following Sunday, May 19, with Monday the 20th reserved as a back-up date.
That left Tuesday and Wednesday, the 21st and 22nd, as the next available days.
It's still not certain, however, whether the district will follow the same pattern in future years.
"The committee operated under the presumption that the dates were being recommended for next year (2013) only and no precedence (sic) for future years was being set," the memo said. "If the events go well next year and weekday graduations continue, both principals feel a consistent and permanent plan would be best."