MUNCIE — Dozens of Muncie Central High School students, along with some staff and community members, voiced their frustrations Tuesday regarding the school administration's handling over complaints about an assignment.
The student whose project was in question spoke at the protest.
"On Nov. 12, 2021, I was confronted by three police officers who had very strong opinions and concerns for my poster," the student said.
The poster was created for an assignment related to the book V for Vendetta. Students were asked to make something that draws attention to a problem in American society. Many of them made posters.
They chose to tackle a variety of topics like gerrymandering, the right to have an abortion and LGBTQ+ rights.
However, students say when posters were put on display in the hallway, school resource officers only had something to say about the posters that referenced police brutality and Black Lives Matter.
People at the protest spoke at length about how they feel the administration got it wrong by relying on Attorney General Todd Rokita's recent opinion, which said schools should treat Black Lives Matter as a political organization, to force the posters back inside the classroom.
The opinion also says school corporations should consider displaying some politically based materials while prohibiting the display of others could violate the First Amendment.
Katey O'Connor is the teacher at the center of all of this.
"The message the students were really trying to get across is that they've been telling the adults that they trust things that are wrong, over and over again and they feel like in the school they weren't being listened to," O'Connor said. "This project brought to light an opportunity for them to say no, we don't agree with this, we're going to say something about it and they ran with it."
In the hallway outside O'Connor's classroom, there are now posters with and explanation posted on the lockers and wall, explaining why the class projects are no longer there, referencing Rokita's opinion.
O'Connor told WRTV how she feels about her students protesting and what lesson she hopes them and the community as a whole learns from the situation.
"I'm definitely proud of my students. I think the lesson I tried to teach them by allowing the conversation with the SROs to happen was that you're going to meet people you disagree with it and that's OK. We live in a world and that's how it works," she said.
"If you don't agree with somebody, come to that person and say listen, I feel this way and have a conversation about that respectfully and then, these kinds of problems won't happen."
We reached out to Muncie Community Schools and Rokita's office for a statement on the situation. Their full comments are below.
Muncie Community Schools:
We support our students exercising their right to peacefully speak out on civic issues of importance. We have trained security personnel at MCHS - retired law enforcement and the MCS Chief of Security.
David Keltz, press secretary for Attorney General Todd Rokita
Our school resource officers, like our police and other first responders, are the best. They should be celebrated and respected for keeping students and faculty safe, not demeaned and ridiculed.
The school district followed the law, and in doing so, saved local taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars in what could have been a bad lawsuit. While in a school setting, students have greater free speech rights than teachers whose rights are limited because of the fact they are at work, but no one (teachers or students) has a right to disrupt the taxpayer funded education of others.
While the attorney general thanks the students for the supposed invitation, the office did not receive it until an hour before the event and we received it second hand from a reporter. Clearly, these student ‘protestors’ and their teachers did not want the security of their own echo chamber disrupted by other thoughts backed by law.
Schools are responsible for complying with state educational standards and must ensure that their policies and procedures are correctly following the guidelines outlined by the Indiana Department of Education (“IDOE”), as well as existing state law.
If schools choose to permit signs, displays, and other expressive materials or speeches promoting one political organization, including BLM, then they should allow the same standards for all political organizations.