About 50 students, parents and teachers from Northwestern High School and the surrounding area attended a community forum in Hyattsville on Monday night to discuss the massive walkout that wasn’t.
On the agenda was “Project Xbox,” the codename for the March 1 protest, the principal’s decision to squash the event, and the suspensions that were given to the four students who helped organize the walkout.
Some students came to the meeting to cast a spotlight on the issues they planned to protest about and to demand that the suspensions be removed from the four students’ permanent records.
Prince George’s County Board of Education member Amber Waller (District 3), who represents the area, said Monday night’s meeting was not the appropriate place to discuss the suspensions or to demand that they be lifted. Instead, she used the meeting to encourage political activism – but only if it’s done in the right manner.
Waller disagreed that Northwestern Principal Edgar Batenga violated the students’ rights when he pressured the students to call off the walkout. When the the students were supposed to walk out of the building, several dozen students walked out of class causing a “major issue” in the hallways, Batenga said.
“Education is a civil right, but disruption of education is not a civil right,” Waller said.
She told the students that they should have identified their issues, then spoken to those who could address the issues. If their concerns were not dealt with satisfactorily, then you take further action, she said. Batenga and Waller said the students never contacted them with her concerns.
The students said the walkout, which was part of a national effort, was to increase teacher pay, improve the quality of education and demand an apology to Filipino teachers who will lose their jobs because their visas will expire.
Christian Rhodes, the education liaison for Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, said he hopes that whatever resolution comes out of the situation includes a second look at the suspensions.
“If the suspensions are upheld, I hope that they do not stay on their permanent records,” Rhodes said.
Meanwhile, officials said Batenga has been has been hearing it from both sides: parents who support his decision by averting chaos in the school and those who think he went too far with the disciplinary action.