As some parents prepare to protest outside Mount Si High School on the Day of Silence, school administrators are assuring the community that the event, scheduled for Friday, April 25, will not endanger the school’s learning environment. The event, in which students may choose to take a day-long vow of silence as part of a nationwide effort to raise awareness of the mistreatment that gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans-gendered and questioning (LGBTQ) students regularly face, has come under fire over the past couple of months as some non-participating students told stories of being called “anti-gay” and even harassed by their peers on past Days of Silence.
Parents and students protesting the event have argued it creates tension at school, detracts from learning, and discourages some students from attending school that day.
Though school administrators encourage all students to go to class as normal, some students have told the school board and the Valley Record that they will not attend school on a day they consider unproductive and potentially unsafe.
Among other complaints, parents and students have said that in previous years, the non-verbal lesson plans of some participating teachers diminished the quality of their classes. This year, teachers will not participate, Principal Randy Taylor wrote in a letter to parents dated April 16 and posted on the school’s Web site.
“As the day is designed as an event for students, teacher lesson plans and educational objectives are in no way put on hiatus,” he wrote.
Prior to the event, all participating students will be required to attend an informational meeting and sign a form agreeing to guidelines that include acknowledging that the event “is not a day to change people’s minds – it is a day to be reflective and raise awareness.” They’re also instructed not to “call into question anyone’s lack of participation in the day,” as “people have many reasons to participate or not.”
Students are encouraged to carry a pen a paper to communicate, and make prior arrangements with teachers to participate actively, though silently, in class.
However, “if a classroom situation requires speaking, students are expected to comply,” Taylor wrote.
Students may pass out cards to explain their reason for not speaking, and are expected to seek help from teachers and administrators if they feel threatened.
This week, daily intercom announcements will remind students of procedures for reporting incidents.
“They need to do what they’d do on any other day and tell an adult,” said Vice Principal Beth Castle.
The Reverend Ken Hutcherson and his wife Pat, whose daughter attends Mount Si, are organizing a protest outside the school on Friday. Ken Hutcherson was invited to speak about civil rights at the high school’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day assembly in January. One teacher booed him during his speech, and another asked him about his public opposition to equal rights for homosexuals. Following the assembly, school board meetings were packed with students and community members in support of and against the teachers’ actions, and a group called the Coalition to Defend Education (CoDE) formed to “restore neutrality to the classroom and school with an atmosphere free from bias and prejudice,” according to the group’s Web site.
CoDE members have said the Day of Silence violates district policy by occupying the entire school day over the entire school property; they point to Snoqualmie Valley School District policy that states, “Peaceful demonstrations are permissible, though they are to be held in designated places where they will present no hazards to persons or property and at designated times that will not disrupt classes or other school activities.”
School administrators have said the Day of Silence falls within students’ right to free speech, and learning will not be interrupted.
CoDE members have also complained that students feel pressured to participate in the Day of Silence to avoid being labeled “anti-gay.” School administration has said each student may make an individual choice about whether to participate, but earlier this spring, a faculty advisor asked members of the National Honor Society to vote on whether to support the Day of Silence as a group. Castle said asking students to vote was unacceptable, and administrators took immediate steps to correct the situation.
“We put a notice out to all club advisors that we’d not have a vote in another club about supporting it. That’s an individual choice for students, as we’ve said all along,” Castle said.