LAKEWOOD — Anna Tiberi hasn’t decided whether she’ll join her classmates Thursday morning, when hundreds of students are expected to leave their desks and head toward a nearby avenue to become the latest Jefferson County school to partake in a week’s long protest.
“I love that we’re doing something,” said the Lakewood High School senior. But, she said with a sigh, “I don’t think it’s the right thing.”
To be clear: Tiberi, like many of her classmates who are preparing to rally in the streets, is adamantly opposed to a controversial curriculum review committee, proposed by a Jefferson County school board member. Many believe Julie William’s proposal could lead to censorship; it has sparked nearly a week’s worth of student protests.
But Tiberi isn’t convinced the students’ message — essentially, “back off our classrooms” — is getting across. She’s actually concerned the walkouts may backfire.
“Just the idea behind [the panel] is so primitive and dictatorial,” she said. “But if they’re trying to stop us from being — in their words — ‘rebels,’ I think by [walking out] it furthers their cause.”
Williams’ proposal specifically requests that the yet-to-be-formed committee review an advanced history class to ensure it teaches a positive view of American history and discourages students from breaking laws.
Because some of Tiberi’s classmates share her concern, and because student leaders here have been debating for days about how best to make their opinions known, the student protest at Lakewood High might look very different from those earlier in the week.
“We wanted to find a way to voice our concerns without actually missing school,” said Ana Fairbanks-Mahnke, a Lakewood junior, previewing tomorrow’s plans. “All of us really value our educations.”
Since Friday, students from 13 of Jeffco Public Schools’ 17 traditional high schools have rallied in opposition to the proposed community curriculum review panel. Lakewood High, the county’s largest high school, is expected to be the 14th.
Each day’s subsequent protests have grown — from about 100 at Standley Lake High on Friday to 1,000 at Chatfield High today. The students have gotten louder and rowdier. And while student organizers have done their best to maintain the activist spirit of the walkouts, it’s becoming clear that some students are just out for a day off.
Instead of an early-morning mass exodus with no specific end time, students are being encouraged to rally for about 20 minutes during their homeroom at 9:20 a.m., be back for class at 9:40 a.m., and only return to the demonstration if they have a free period.
“To clarify the intent of this is not to ‘walk out’ in the sense that other schools have done,” Lakewood High organizers posted on Facebook. “We will in no way promote kids walking out of classes. This will be classier and show that we value our education.”
Organizers have also posted a detailed list of appropriate behavior and rules for tomorrow on social media.
To prepare, student leaders have met with school staff and Lakewood police department. And 650 students met with the county’s superintendent Dan McMinimee earlier in the week.
“Our students are well-informed,” said Lisa Ritchey, Lakewood High’s principal.
Lakewood students who participated in the meeting with McMinimee said they believe they have a grasp on the issues, even though there are still not a lot of answers about what’s next for the school district, which seems to be in a continuous frenzy.
Many upperclassmen at Lakewood, and throughout Jefferson County, said they’ve noticed their teachers have become increasingly frustrated.
“It’s unfair how they’re being treated,” said Liz Crosland, a senior.
What’s worse, students said, is that their teachers are trying their hardest to not bring their personal feelings into class.
“They’re not allowed to talk about it,” several students said.
The most specific advice any teacher at Lakewood High has given, students said, is “make sure you know what you’re walking out for.”
That’s advice that Daniel Torres, a senior, and Brayan Meza, a sophomore, are heeding.
“A couple of friends were talking about it this morning,” Torres said, “But I’m not planning on walking out.”
“I’m not sure what it’s all about,” Meza said. “And I won’t walk out until I do.”
Whether Lakewood High’s walkout will be more civil remains to be seen.
“We’re trying to keep it as controlled as possible while making sure everyone can be involved,” said Thomas Sizemore, another student organizer at Lakewood.
Tiberi, the senior struggling to find another way to make her voice heard, said Thursday can go either way.
“They’ve locked us into the corner,” Tiberi said, referring to the school board’s conservative majority. “We don’t want to be the rebels they’re trying to paint us as. We’re just frustrated and don’t know what to do.”