US: Anti-war protests save teachers’ jobs!

Tukwila School authorities forced to back down

On November 16, more than 125 students walked out of classes at Foster High School in Tukwila, WA, in response to a call for a student walkout by Youth Against War and Racism protesting the war and military recruiters in schools.

Foster HS is part of the Tukwila School District, which is between Seattle and Tacoma, of which 71% of the student body is low-income and eligible for free, or reduced-cost school meals, and where military recruiters are very active.

In response to the walkout, the Tukwila School District threatened students with suspension, but their main targets were teachers, some of whom encouraged students to walk out or actually walked out with the students. Disciplinary investigations threatened the firing of six teachers, and the administration placed one of the six, Brett Rogers, on administrative leave. Outraged, students, community activists, and Socialist Alternative began organizing to resist these attacks on their rights.

Within days, an appeal for solidarity was sent out across email lists worldwide, resulting in over 1,000 protest emails and phone calls flooding the school administration demanding they reinstate Brett Rogers and respect the democratic rights of both teachers and students. Reeling from the enormous response, the administration scandalously called in the local police to break up a peaceful student meeting held in the school.

At the November 27 Tukwila School Board meeting, over 100 students, family members, and community supporters turned out to demand the school board drop all disciplinary actions against the teachers and students.

Following the momentum of the meeting, the students energetically began campaigning at their school by passing around petitions, trying to involve wider layers of the student body in the struggle to save their teachers, and meeting daily to prepare for the next school board meeting.

Meanwhile, the school administration, desperate to regain control of the situation and to undercut the student organizing, targeted one of the activists and suspended her for nine days on bogus charges.

Moreover, the administration sought to weaken the main student organizers by attempting to peel the moderate students away from the radical students by sending in a teacher to help the students prepare their presentations at the next school board. Acting as a Trojan horse for the administration’s views, the teacher coached the students on what they should say and attempted to convince the school board that there really was just a “communication” problem.

Correctly, the radical students and Socialist Alternative focused on mobilizing students, teachers, and community supporters, the main forces capable of forcing the administration to capitulate. Throughout history, all the gains won by the working class – whether it be the 8-hour workday, women’s right to vote and abortion rights, the civil rights of African Americans, or the recent rolling back of the draconian anti-immigrant HR 4437 bill – were achieved not by well-meaning politicians but rather by the organized, mass actions of ordinary workers and students.

The school authorities faced relentless pressure on all fronts. The Seattle teachers’ union and the L.A. teachers’ union (the second largest teachers’ union in the country) both passed resolutions in support of the teachers and the students. The campaign received significant local corporate media coverage as well as independent media, including Pacifica Radio and NYC Indymedia.

Following the school board meeting where students gave impassioned speeches, ongoing pressure by community members, anti-war groups, and concerned individuals worldwide, and the threat of further organizing by students, the school board finally capitulated.

What we won:

  • Brett Rogers was reinstated for the fall semester
  • All investigations against the remaining teachers were dropped with two minor letters of reprimand
  • he principal of Foster HS, disgraced and under pressure, was forced to resign
  • Through a campaign spearheaded by students and Socialist Alternative, the students and the local anti-war movement won a significant victory that highlights the power and potential of organized students and workers
  • Students have learned a powerful lesson in organizing. Teachers around the area have been emboldened that they can stand up to the pro-war activities of their school authorities. Students are now continuing to organize in their school against military recruiters

This article is also published in the new issue of Justice, newspaper of Socialist Alternative (CWI in the US)

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January 2008