Alliance Statement on the Edwardsville School District Ban on Ferguson Discussion

In Edwardsville, IL, a 30 minute drive from the scene of the Michael Brown killing, the school district superintendent has banned teachers from talking about the incident with students entirely. It would seem that dicussions pertaining to the incident would be valuable to students as a topic in many classes. The superintendent stated that their reasoning for the ban was due to the fact teachers may interject their own opinions rather than state the facts. The Alliance strives for educational environments that support inclusion of voices and identities that are often dismissed or devalued and thus we drafted a letter to the Edwardsville district superintendent. 

Dr. Ed Hightower, Superintendent

Edwardsville Unified Community School District 7

708 Saint Louis Street, P.O. Box 250

Edwardsville, IL 62025

Dear Dr. Hightower:

We at the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance reach out to express our disappointment and concern about your decision to ban discussion in District 7 schools about the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri beginning with the death of 24-year old Michael Brown.  Your page on the district’s website states:

We are committed to searching for ways to enhance and broaden the educational environment for our students, reaching out beyond the school walls in new and significant ways, developing innovative approaches to teaching and learning, discovering new knowledge, and creating new opportunities for all involved.

By prohibiting students and teachers from discussing these events, you violate the pledge you have made to enhance and broaden the educational environment of Edwardsville’s schools, reach out beyond the schools’ walls, develop innovative ways to teach and to learn, and support the discovery of new knowledge and opportunities for all involved.        

Our mission at the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance (the Alliance) is to promote safety, support, and healthy development for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth in Illinois schools and communities, through advocacy, education, youth organizing, and research.  We take a broad view of our work, seeing it through a lens of comprehensive educational and social justice.  Through this lens, we aim to build healthy, positive, and nurturing school communities for ALL students, particularly those students most impacted by racism, heterosexism, and other systems of oppression. 

We also stand for the constitutional right of students and teachers to speak and express opinions, and by extension, the rights parents and communities members to complain about these opinions.  The First Amendment, which applies to public school settings, protects these discussions from being shut down. 

Because the shooting of Michael Brown and the events that have unfolded since raise issues of power and privilege around race – issues that have deeply impacted this nation’s social, political and educational history -   emotions and passions are running high.  It is these emotional and passionate opinions that create opportunities for schools to support students (families) to engage in critical dialogue and discussion.  Research shows that lessons reflecting students’ lived experiences carry the most educational weight. That is why classrooms, like those in Edwardsville, are one of the most valuable environments to discuss current events that will shape the history of our country.

We urge you to lift the ban on supported, productive, and collaborative discussion about Michael Brown and the events that have transpired in Ferguson, Missouri as well as any other events that will inevitably occur in our communities.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated “Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction. The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically.”  We call upon you to make the immensely impactful decision to create an environment for students in Edwardsville where they can practice intensive critical thinking.

Anthony Papini

Executive Director

Illinois Safe Schools Alliance