Community members voice concerns about student protest
About 20 people intent on schooling the school board concerning a rally at the Williamsport Area High School in April, which they alleged was in support of Black Lives Matter, attended a recent meeting to offer their feedback.
Voicing their concerns over the rally, which they contend was not only disruptive but was in support of Black Lives Matter, the group had organized their protest through Facebook.
They carried signs showing their support of the police and spoke about their dissatisfaction with the students who, according to a statement by Timothy S. Bower, district superintendent, rallied in support of social justice.
“A lot of what you read on Facebook is not accurate. It was not a BLM rally. It was not anti-police,” Bowers said.
He said that around 75 students who participated in the rally had worked with the administration to find out if they could hold the rally without disrupting the school day.
“They have that right,” Bowers said. “Students do not shed their constitutional rights at the school gates.”
Bowers said that a Supreme Court case from the 1960s, Tinker vs. Des Moines, guaranteed the right of students to exercise their First Amendments freedom as long as it did not interfere with the operation of the school.
One of the main issues driving the individuals to protest was what they felt was a lack of accountability for students who participated in the rally, which they said had disrupted the educational day.
“Please just listen. These people are not here to be adversarial, they are here to help you understand,” said Jeffrey Stroehmann, one of the organizers of the protest and a Woodward Township resident.
Referencing the student rally, Stroehmann and members of his group who spoke stated it should not have taken place on school property during class time.
One man who was at the meeting, a Loyalsock Township resident, said that students should have held the rally “on their time, not the taxpayers’ dime.”
According to Bowers, the students who had participated gathered in the lobby area of the high school, listened to some comments and then walked around the loop at the entrance to the school and went in the building and heard more comments. He added that one student who was working in a co-op experience had pizza delivered to the group.
“Some of the kids had slices of pizza and then they went back to class. Thirty minutes — the educational system was not disrupted,” Bowers said.
He said that the students chose to “do it the correct way” by working with the teachers and principals to find out how to conduct the rally.
“As an educational setting we have a responsibility to teach people, to show them how to do things according to the rules,” Bowers said.
Members of the group upset about the rally suggested that the board needed to learn more about the BLM movement, which one man characterized as a Marxist, “quasi-terrorist” group. Another member offered to send board members information so they could learn more about it.
At one point a member of the group became vocal to the point of disrupting the board meeting and was escorted by a Williamsport police officer from the auditorium where the meeting was held.