As some students learned this summer, the school funding system can create wide disparities between schools in low-income and wealthy neighborhoods.
Prompted by staff cuts based on enrollment projections at Rainier Beach and other high schools in Seattle, five students decided to organize a walkout in front of Rainier Beach community center on the first day of school to protest those inequities.
They chose the first day of school for this event to make a statement, they said. They plan to keep organizing events to raise awareness about how funding issues affect them.
Students and teachers staged weekly walkouts last year over cuts to the school staff, which they say affected core subjects.
“We’re understaffed,” said Angelina Riley, a junior at Rainier Beach.
The district sets the number of employees each school can have based on enrollment projections for the following year. Principals decide where those cuts will happen. Though Rainier Beach’s enrollment has dipped slightly in the last year many — including School Board member Eden Mack — have raised concerns that the district’s forecasted enrollment decline could be too steep.
More than 50 students from around the area attended the event, which was organized and publicized through Instagram. They also spoke of overcrowded classrooms at Rainier Beach, which will get a new building through the district’s new construction levy.
Students said they want to see implicit bias training for staff in the school district. Many adults have also called for this in light of an incident in May where a white teacher in Seattle called the police to resolve a disciplinary issue with her fifth grade black student.
“Seven years [after the McCleary v. Washington ruling], this system is still undeniably outdated, prejudiced and inequitable,” said Davie Ross, a senior at Aviation High School in Highline.
This isn’t the first protest over staffing cuts in schools. Students at Nova High School walked to City Hall last year after losing two teachers — one of which they got back through crowdfunding. Teachers at Garfield High School stopped classes and gathered students in the gym over similar news.
“School leaders, district officials and educators work very hard to provide excellence in education and the best for our students,” district spokesman Tim Robinson said in an email. “This includes the hard work of staffing, budgeting, etc. We welcome input from our students and families and school communities. As the school year progresses, school leaders and educators” at Rainier Beach “will continue to work for the best for their school community, as will everyone in the central office.”