Lawrence high school students protest against district’s recommendation to cut gymnastics; board president says no decision has been made yet

photo by: Kenna McNally/LHS Budget

Lawrence High School gymnastics team members observe a protest that attracted hundreds of students who gathered in support of the program after district officials recommended discontinuing it next fall.

Updated at 4 p.m. Wednesday

Lawrence high school students took action on Wednesday to support their fellow classmates who participate in the school district’s gymnastics program after district officials recently recommended discontinuing the program.

Many students at both Lawrence High School and Free State High School held demonstrations during the school day in support of the program, calling on the district to reverse course. According to social media posts from the student newspapers of both schools, students held signs and chanted “save our sport.”

However, it’s unclear when the Lawrence school board will take action on the recommendation. Board President Erica Hill told the Journal-World the issue would not be up for consideration during its next meeting on Monday, which is the board’s only meeting this month. She said the board would continue to discuss budget issues in the coming weeks as part of an evaluation process.

Meanwhile, hundreds of students participated in the protests at both schools. The LHS students protested by gathering in the school’s atrium during their fourth period, according to The Budget, the LHS student newspaper.

Free State students walked out of their school building around the same time. In a video posted by the Free Press, the school’s student newspaper, students said they believed the school board needed to reject the recommendation and that the board had the “chance to make it right.”

The demonstrations come just days after district officials announced in an email to the program’s athletes and parents that administrators have recommended the discontinuation of the program for various reasons, including a tight district budget.

The gymnastics program includes two separate teams at Lawrence High School and Free State High School. Both schools have been successful, winning a combined total of eight state titles since 2004.

Hill acknowledged the administration’s recommendation has been made, but said no final decision has been made. She also said many have already shared their thoughts with the board members.

“We have received feedback from many perspectives pertaining to the gymnastics program,” she said in an email. “I appreciate hearing from community members, especially from the students.”

photo by: Kenna McNally/LHS Budget

Hundreds of Lawrence High School students gathered in the school’s atrium on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021, in protest against the school district’s recommendation to discontinue its gymnastics program.

Additionally, outgoing school board member G.R. Gordon-Ross witnessed the LHS protest in person. He told the Journal-World shortly after the demonstration that he was impressed with the students’ support of one another.

“LHS has a long history of protesting when they feel there is injustice,” Gordon-Ross said. “I am always proud to see our students standing up for themselves and standing up for people who they think don’t have a big enough voice.”

However, Gordon-Ross said he was still undecided on whether he supports the district’s recommendation. He said while many people were focused on the budget part of the decision, there was more to the issue than saving the district money.

As the Journal-World previously reported, the district cited concerns about low participation, with just 22 students from the two high schools, and a small number of programs in the state. It also said the program lacked dedicated practice space in the district.

The district said the school’s athletic conference, the Sunflower League, has also been discussing a discontinuation of the fall sport because there are only three 6A programs, including Lawrence, and 14 programs statewide.

But the budget may still be a significant part of the issue because the coronavirus pandemic led to a significant enrollment drop, which means less state funding for the district. In the email, the district said it costs about $32,000 a year to operate the program, which includes the cost of coaching, equipment and transportation.

photo by: Kenna McNally/LHS Budget

Hundreds of Lawrence High School students participated in a sit-in protest in the school’s atrium in support of the gymnastics program.

But before Gordon-Ross makes a decision, he said he wanted to hear more from the administration’s recommendation and the discussion among the school board members during a meeting.

“During the last four years, I’ve always tried to walk into big decisions like this with an open mind ready to have and listen to the discussion at the board table,” Gordon-Ross said.

But it’s unlikely Gordon-Ross will be able to weigh in on the issue, as his tenure on the board ends in January, when board members who were elected in November take their seats.


Dec. 6, 2021 — ‘A loss for girls’: Lawrence school district recommends discontinuation of gymnastics program; participants plan to fight it

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