Students learned at Day of Silence

Recently there has been a good deal of discussion in our community concerning the Day of Silence at Mount Si High School.

Recently there has been a good deal of discussion in our community concerning the Day of Silence at Mount Si High School.

Strong and impassioned opinions from both sides of this issue have been expressed by parents, community patrons, and students.

Some perceived the Day of Silence as being primarily about sexual orientation. This perception has generated questions, raised concerns, and led to a flow of misinformation throughout the community.

We recognize, appreciate, and respect that members of our community have deeply-held personal, religious, political, and philosophical convictions on issues related to sexual orientation. Reconciliation of these issues, however, is not the responsibility of the school district.

The school district’s focus is on student learning, and to provide for all students a safe and respectful learning environment where they are not subject to discrimination, harassment, or bullying. To be clear, the purpose of the Day of Silence was to raise awareness regarding student safety, bullying, and harassment.

The Day of Silence at Mount Si High School was a student-initiated and student-organized event. On April 25 this year, over 7,600 other schools participated in Day of Silence nationwide, including over 250 in our state and 17 of 19 schools in the KingCo League. Of approximately 1,400 students at Mount Si, about 200 students signed up to participate. Learning remained a priority for the day; students participating in the Day of Silence were required to participate in class if called upon by their teachers.

In a legal sense, student-initiated participation in the Day of Silence last week was within their First Amendment rights to lawful free speech. The high school administration and staff went to great lengths to provide appropriate oversight to the Day of Silence activities. Those expectations were that participants not disrupt the school, not pressure others to participate, and speak if directed by a staff member or administrator.

The presence of adult protesters in close proximity to Mount Si High School and the media attention generated by those protesters was disappointing to us. However, the actions of the adult protesters on public property near the school were beyond our scope of authority. We did not appreciate being placed in this position, but even more so, feel badly for the students at Mount Si High School who were offended by this attention. Our students are proud of their school, as they should be.

In the coming weeks, the Day of Silence will be evaluated in terms of its successes and its shortfalls. We were pleased that the day unfolded without incident or disorder inside the school. However, there was a significant number of student absences this year — many more than in years past on the Day of Silence.

In retrospect, a number of positive outcomes emerged from this experience. Our students enhanced their ability to work together. Our students learned to better express themselves in a fashion that is respectful and non-disruptive. And, our students experienced growth in their ability to respect one another regardless of differences in beliefs or personal characteristics. These are some of the learnings and experiences that serve to help young people grow into thoughtful and responsible adults.

Schools are institutions of learning, their purpose being to prepare our students to live, prosper, and contribute to a democratic society. That learning manifests itself in many different ways through a variety of experiences and life lessons. We take seriously our responsibility to advance student learning, while at the same time ensuring that our schools are safe, secure, and free from harassment and bullying. In this country, we also enjoy the right to free speech and the opportunity to express individual opinions and beliefs. This is a balance that we are legally bound to uphold in our schools.

As adults, we must keep our focus on the students and their well-being. We must model the very behaviors we hope to see in them, support their growth, reinforce their successes, and be there to help them up when they stumble. I continue to be impressed and amazed with the capabilities of our students and am proud of their behavior during these past few months. They have demonstrated insight, modeled respect, exhibited leadership, and shown to us their inherent goodness.

• Joel Aune is superintendent of the Snoqualmie Valley School District. You may reach him by calling (425) 831-8000. For additional information about the 2008 Bond Proposition, please visit the district website at