Hazelwood schools lift student suspensions after days of pressure

May 18, 2017
Originally published on May 19, 2017 1:16 pm

Hazelwood school officials lifted the suspensions of nearly 200 high school students Thursday after several days of pressure from fellow students, parents and civil rights groups.

The students had been given five-day suspensions and were banned from participating in the graduation ceremony at Hazelwood West High School after they walked out of classes Monday to protest on behalf of the teachers. The teachers had been hoping to negotiate raises with the district. 

Even though the district lifted the suspensions, it shifted some of the blame for Monday’s events to teachers. The district issued a statement claiming teachers “encouraged and may have manipulated students into the walkout, which resulted in disruption and created safety concerns.” 

“No teacher encouraged students to do this,” said Diane Livingston, president of the Hazelwood chapter of the National Education Association.

Livingston said she is relieved the “extreme” punishment on students has been rescinded.

About 200 students left class Monday afternoon and ventured outside in support of teachers, who were upset that a union contract under negotiation did not include a pay raise. Several students said later that despite warnings from the school district on Sunday, they thought worst punishment they would receive was detention.

The student code of conduct “said nothing about suspensions,” Senior Class President Kyra Pearson said. “We’ve done many walkouts in the past with no punishment.”

Instead, the students were suspended for five days and a dozen seniors were banned from walking in their graduation ceremony this Saturday. But according to the school district, the students' actions rose above a simple disruption and that the “students in the hallways and outside of the school walked, ran, and shouted chants using vulgarities and profanities.”

More than 2,200 students attend Hazelwood West High School. The district said the protest disrupted final exams for some students. 

The suspensions raised concerns among civil liberty and school discipline activists. Parents and students stood outside the school in the days following the initial protest and a group of students staged a sit-in at district headquarters Thursday morning in an effort to get a meeting with the superintendent, which the district said it granted.

The students will be allowed to return to school on Friday, the district's statement said and seniors have been invited back to graduation. Scholarships were never in jeopardy, the district added.

Dennis Newell, Hazelwood West High School principal,  lifted the punishments after learning of “new information” during meetings, a district representative said. Livingston said she’d been unable to talk to Newell or Superintendent Nettie Collins-Hart during the week.

Community relations in Hazelwood were already fraught. Parents in the district were angry about the demotion of a teacher this year and they petitioned the state auditor to review school finances.

View the Hazelwood School District's Student-Parent Handbook and Behavior Guide here: 

Follow Camille on Twitter: @cmpcamille; Ryan: @rpatrickdelaney

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